SAN FRANCISCO – Jason Heyward made himself at home again Saturday at AT&T Park, and Mike Minor showed again that he’s the most improved Braves pitcher since the beginning of the season.
Heyward hit a three-run homer in the third inning and Minor allowed only two hits before the seventh inning of a 7-3 win against the San Francisco Giants, a win the Braves needed badly after losing six of their previous seven.
“The clubhouse vibe is a lot better,” Minor said after pitching 6-1/3 innings in his ninth consecutive solid outing, and getting what for him was a relative abundance of run support. “Any time you get a win, especially against a good team like this, you kind of just reverse [momentum], get it going back our way.
“We had a lot of runs today, good at-bats, good defense. Everything just kind of started clicking. So hopefully we’ll keep it going.”
The left-hander was charged with four hits, three runs and no walks with five strikeouts, and two of his runs came on a Francisco Peguero double off reliever Chad Durbin immediately after Minor was replaced in the seventh inning.
“I’m pleased with the way Minor pitched today,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Better than pleased. Ecstatic. And pleased with the offense.”
So was Minor (7-10), who had won just once in his previous seven starts despite a 2.22 ERA in that period. The Braves scored no runs while he was in his past three starts before Saturday — all quality starts and all losses for Minor.
They had averaged just 1.8 support runs per nine innings that he pitched in his previous seven starts.
Heyward made sure there’d be no repeat of that when he pulled a Madison Bumgarner pitch onto the aluminum roof above the right-field wall with one out in the third inning. It was his fifth homer in nine games at AT&T Park, despite the spacious right-field dimensions that have made it a nightmare for most left-handed hitters not named Bonds.
“I don’t know, the crowd always keeps you on your toes here,” said Heyward, who has hit more homers at AT&T Park than anywhere except Turner Field. “It’s a fun environment to play in. They [Giants fans] are there every night, and they’re a good team with good pitchers. You’ve got to focus every at-bat.”
Even more impressive was whom it came against – Bumgarner (14-8) had allowed only four homers this season at AT&T Park, and the left-hander hadn’t allowed a homer by a left-handed batter at home since Joey Votto took him deep in 2010.
Bumgarner had a 1.93 ERA in his past eight starts before Saturday, when the Braves got to him for seven hits, four runs and four walks in 6-1/3 innings. He had allowed two or fewer earned runs in seven of his previous eight starts.
“I’m just looking for strikes to hit,” said Heyward, who’s hit .316 with 16 extra-base hits (nine homers) and 23 RBIs in his past 31 games. “I’ve faced him since ’08, and he hasn’t really changed much, and he’s been successful at it. Just looking for pitches to hit, trying to stay short [with his swing] and don’t miss the one you get to hit, because if you do he’s got you.”
Minor also helped his cause at the plate by drawing a seven-pitch walk to lead off the third inning and hitting a one-out double to the right-field warning track in the seventh. He scored both times.
After the Giants cut the lead to 4-3 in the seventh, the Braves got two runs in the eighth on a pair of two-out bases-loaded walks by Michael Bourn and Martin Prado.
Minor allowed only one baserunner in the first four innings and retired 11 in a row before hitting Hunter Pence with a pitch to start the fifth. Joaquin Arias followed with a double to put two runners in scoring position with none out. It was the type of situation where Minor might have melted down in April or May, but he’s since become well-versed in the art of damage control .
He gave up a run-scoring groundout to the next batter, then got a strikeout and flyout to get out of the inning with a 3-1 lead.
“I was just trying to get guys out, just limit the damage,” he said. “If they score one run, that’s OK. Just try to make a quality pitch and if I walk him, I walk him, but just try to control it.”