Paul Maholm wasn’t dominant like he’d been five days before against the Mets, but he was plenty sharp Wednesday on a night when the Braves broke out the big bats for a couple of innings and hammered the San Diego Padres.
Dan Uggla’s three-run homer highlighted a six-run scoring flurry in the third and fourth innings that propelled Maholm and the Braves to a 6-1 win against the Padres at Turner Field, where the Braves collected their 16th win 21 games but remained 4-1/2 games behind equally hot National League East leader Washington.
“It’s good to keep winning, bottom line,” said Heyward, who went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two walks.
After throwing a three-hit shutout against the Mets on Sunday, Maholm (11-7) allowed five hits and one run in seven innings and improved to 7-1 with a 1.19 ERA in his past nine starts, including 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three since being traded from the Cubs.
The veteran left-hander didn’t get too excited about surpassing his previous best single-season wins total.
“We’ve got a long way to go the rest of the season, so I’m just going to keep doing my routine, keep expecting to win every time out,” he said. “When you’ve got a club that’s playing well it’s fun to come in every day and it’s fun to go out there for your start days.”
Maholm had three walks and seven strikeouts, including two strikeouts after the Padres loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning.
Logan Forsythe’s two-out homer in the third was the only run against Maholm and gave the Padres a 1-0 lead, before the Braves blitzed Edinson Volquez (7-9) for three runs in the third and three more in the fourth before a crowd of 16,302, the second-smallest of the season at Turner Field. Two of the three smallest have come in the past two nights.
Martin Prado added three hits for the Braves have a 26-10 record since July 5, but have gained only 1-1/2 games in that torrid stretch against the Nationals (26-13).
Five of six Braves runs came with two outs, on Uggla’s homer and Jason Heyward’s two-run double in the fourth that chased Volquez from the game.
Volquez has lasted fewer than four innings in three consecutive starts, and the former Cincinnati right-hander has allowed 21 earned runs, 22 hits and five homers in 13-2/3 innings over his past four starts.
He threw a letters-high 95-mph fastball to Uggla with two out in the third, and the thick-armed second baseman somehow got on top of the pitch and uncoiled, pulling the ball to the left-field seats for his 15th homer and second in as many nights against the Padres. The ball tore through the air and into the stands on a low trajectory, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
“He’s heating up,” Gonzalez said. “That ball that he hit today was gone in a heartbeat. He hit the ball hard, and Jason got some good hits and drove in some runs and Prado had a three-hit night.
The Braves hope they’re seeing a long-awaited turnaround for Uggla, who also walked twice Wednesday and is 9-for-26 with three homers and nine RBIs in his past eight games.
“I guess it felt a little up,” Uggla said of the pitch he drove to the seats. “But that’s what happens when you’re on time. When I’m on time, my bat’s as quick as anybody’s. I was able to get on top of one finally. Man, it felt good.”
He has eight extra-base hits and 16 RBIs in past 16 games, after hitting just .110 with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs in his previous 42 games.
“Just to get on base, get some hits, drive some runners in, score some runs — that’s when you know you’re getting back on track, when you’re creating some run production,” Uggla said. “That’s the only thing I really care about, scoring runs and driving in runs. Once you get to this level, that’s all it’s about.”
In the first five innings, the Padres went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left two or more runners on in three innings.
“He wiggled out of some jams,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Maholm. “He wasn’t as sharp as he was in New York obviously, but he kept us in the ballgame. I’ll talk to him tomorrow about it, but I think sometimes he’s not afraid to walk a guy to get to a guy he wants.”
Gonzalez wondered if Maholm intended to walk Everth Cabrera to load the bases with one out in the fourth, bringing up Nick Hundley and Volquez. Gonzalez joked that if so, it would help to know in the future for the health of he and pitching coach Roger McDowell, who were getting a bit worried on the bench.
“I looked like from sitting in the dugout, he wanted to face those two guys,” said Gonzalez, who planned to ask the pitcher about it later. “He didn’t want to walk the shortstop [Cabrera] but he didn’t want to give him something to hit.”
Maholm told reporters later that yes, he’d been careful with Cabrera, an approach he learned while growing up watching his idol Tom Glavine pitch for the Braves.
“Whenever you have guys that aren’t have the years that they’re capable of, obviously I’m not going to give in to Cabrera when I’ve got Hundley and the pitcher coming up,” Maholm said. “I threw some close pitches [to Cabrera] and he laid off of them. You just kind of move on and go after the next guy.”
“[Glavine] is a Hall of Famer, so I’m not going to compare myself to him. But I think I try and keep the same mindset no matter what, and not give in. Like I said when I got here, my mindset is to not give in and not allow the other team know whether you’ve got your good stuff. No matter what the score is, I’m going to go and compete and just try to keep it calm and compete and just make pitches.”
The Braves wasted a scoring opportunity in the second inning after Uggla’s leadoff walk and a Juan Francisco double put two in scoring position with none out. Uggla was thrown out at home trying to scoring on McCann’s grounder to first base and Paul Janish popped out before Maholm struck out to end the inning.
In the third, the Braves had two runners in scoring position again, after a Prado one-out single followed by a Heyward double. Freddie Freeman hit a comebacker and Prado was caught in a rundown between third and home for the second out.
Just when some in the crowd might’ve been thinking it could be night of wasted opportunities, Uggla brought everyone to attention with his laser to the seats.
“It’s just huge to see him staying with it like we know he can,” Heyward said of Uggla. “I’m really happy for him to put together a lot of good ABs in the last few weeks. He looked really dangerous at the plate.”
In the fourth, the Braves put two on with one out. Michael Bourn drove in the first run with a groundout that tipped off Volquez glove to the second baseman. Prado followed with a single and Heyward lined a double deep to the right-center gap that rolled to the wall and brought in both runners for a 6-1 lead.
Volquez fell to 1-3 in five starts against Atlanta, who allowed only one fewer earned run in 3-2/3 innings than had allowed in 22 innings of his previous games against the Braves. The Braves batted .169 with 29 strikeouts against him in those starts, but it was an entirely different story Wednesday – except for the part where Volquez gets no run support. That part was repeated.
“You don’t want to get behind 0-2, 1-2 on a guy like that, who has such good stuff,” Uggla said. “He’s got a lot of things he can make you swing and miss with, and he’s got a fastball he can blow by you. So it’s just a matter of not missing that mistake, and if you do get behind in the count you’ve got to stick your nose in there and just grind until you get something you can handle.”