Mike Minor was unhittable most of the game, which is just about what’s required lately for a Braves pitcher to get a win.
The left-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies, and the Braves came away with a 1-0 win at Turner Field despite wasting numerous scoring opportunities to continue their recent alarming trend.
Craig Kimbrel struck out Jordan Pacheco with two runners in scoring position to end the eighth inning and then struck out three of four batters in the ninth for his first career save of more than three out, in his first appearance longer than an inning since April 2011.
Minor (8-10) was superb, allowing one hit and four walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings and trimmed his ERA to 2.58 over his past 11 starts since a midseason turnaround.
“I didn’t even feel like I was throwing that great,” said Minor, who threw 63 strikes in 108 pitches, including 80 pitches in the first five innings. “Then I looked back – I actually didn’t know until the fifth – I looked back and saw no hits. Because of a couple of walks, a couple of hard hits, I didn’t really feel like I was throwing that great.”
Minor and the Atlanta’s top two relievers, Eric O’Flaherty and Kimbrel, combined for a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts.
They needed to be every bit that good, because the Braves had only four hits themselves and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. That made them 2-for-27 in those situations in the first three games of the four-game series, which they still lead 2-1 thanks largely to Kris Medlen (five-hit complete game Monday) and Wednesday’s pitching trio.
“Yeah, sometimes just enough is enough,” Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. “Mike and O [O'Flaherty] and Kimbrel, they held it down for us…. We got a W. I don’t care how we get it. It can look pretty, it can look ugly, whatever. However people look at it, it counts as a win. Gives us a chance to try and win a series tomorrow.”
The Braves have hit .144 (21-for-146) with runners in scoring position in their past 18 games, including 11 losses.
“We’ve been struggling with runners in scoring position lately, but through a season you have streaks where it happens like that,” Bourn said. “At the time we’re still getting wins while it’s happening. So when we break out of it, we’ll really be on a roll.”
Minor struck out three of the next four batters after Jordan Pacheco broke up his no-hit bit with a leadoff single in the seventh inning. After walking Andrew Brown with two out to put two Rockies on base for the first time, Minor struck out D.J. LeMahieu to end the inning and preserve a 1-0 lead.
After posting a 6.20 ERA in 15 starts through the end of June, Minor has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his past 11 starts, including two or fewer in seven starts.
“He’s turned the page,” Kimbrel said. “He’s become a completely different pitcher. He’s attacking guys, he’s going right at them. Doesn’t seem as timid out there on the mound. Seems like he’s more in control when he’s out there, and you’ve seen it with his outings. He’s really become a better pitcher.”
Minor is only 4-4 in that 11-game stretch, mainly because the Braves scored no runs while he was in four games and one run while he was in two others.
“Well, finally we got him some run support,” cracked Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, trying to keep a straight face. “What else do you want, for God’s sake? You want any more than that?”
Turning serious, Gonzalez said, “He pitched great. He really did.”
The Braves scored an unearned run in the fourth inning and Minor and the bullpen made the lead stand and moved back to three games ahead of St. Louis atop the National League wild-card standings. They remained 7-1/2 games behind NL East leader Washington with only 25 to play.
There were 16,714 tickets sold, 28 more than Tuesday night’s game against the Rockies. They were two of the five smallest home crowds this season.
The Braves scored in the fourth inning after Chipper Jones led off with a single and Freddie Freeman walked. With two on and none out, Brian McCann grounded into a potential double play, but Freeman slid in hard and late. Shortstop Josh Rutledge leaped to avoid him at the last second and made an errant throw to first base, allowing Jones to score.
They had a chance to do more damage in the inning, but Dan Uggla popped out for the second out. After Jose Constanza was walked intentionally, Minor grounded out.
The Braves had a chance to add a run in the seventh after Constanza walked, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice. Bourn and Martin Prado each struck out to strand him there.
The Rockies threatened in the eighth after reliever Eric O’Flaherty gave up a walk and a single. O’Flaherty struck out dangerous Carlos Gonzalez for the second out — “For me that’s the game,” Fredi Gonzalez said — and Kimbrel came in and struck out Pacheco to end the inning.
“It was fun,” Kimbrel said of coming in to finish the eighth and get more than three outs. “I’ve been wanting to do that all year. Whenever I have to come in and do my job and help the team win, I’m ready to do it.”
The last time Kimbrel was used for more than three outs was April 21, 2011, when he allowed a run in two innings against the Dodgers and blew a save. He had a lot more success 121 appearances later, as he struck out four of the five batters he faced Wednesday and gave up only a two-out walk in the ninth to Jason Giambi.
“He hasn’t pitched [much lately], and it was the right situation,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know how often we could do that. If he pitches in normal save situations where he gets two, three, four saves a week, it’s hard to do that. Because I think he ended up with 29, 30 pitches [actually 25]. But if it’s there and we have it there on a double-switch or something that we could do it with, we’ll take advantage of that. It all depends on the workload coming into that situation.”