A warm and fuzzy result on a hot day: Minor beats Strasburg

Mike Minor gave the Braves a major lift Saturday. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

By winning Saturday, Mike Minor gave the Braves a major lift. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

This being baseball, there are no must-win games in June. There can be, however, need-to-win games. For the Braves, Saturday’s encounter rose to the latter level.

They’d fallen 4 ½ games behind Washington in the National League East and to fourth place in the wild-card standings. They’d followed a 14-15 May with a 12-12 June, which meant they’d been mediocre for two solid months. And here, on the hottest day Hotlanta had ever known, came Stephen Strasburg to bring the big heat.

Strasburg is the best young pitcher in baseball. His opponent was Mike Minor, who had, according to FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement index, been the worst starting pitcher in the National League. Seeing those names, the mind ran through a set of chilling calculations: “So Strasburg beats Minor and the Braves are 5 ½ back and they’re facing Gio Gonzalez, who’s 10-3, on Sunday, and this could be out of hand by the Fourth.”

But that sound you heard was that doomsday scenario getting wadded up and flung toward yonder trashcan. Stephen Strasburg did not beat Mike Minor. Other way around.

Strasburg was gone after three innings, having walked Michael Bourn and Martin Prado twice each and having paid the price the second time. He was pulled because of heat-related symptoms – gametime temperature was 104 degrees – but also because the Braves made him throw 67 pitches to get nine outs.

That was clever: On a day that was oppressive for everyone, starting pitchers figured to have it the worst. A hitter could stand there with the bat on his shoulder, but a pitcher had to exert himself. Bourn and Prado made Strasburg work from the very first, and after two innings the famous flinger was in a curious position: Leading 2-0 and working on a no-hitter but, owing to his labors, bound for trouble.

“We’ve been pretty good at driving up his pitch count here,” said Chipper Jones, who didn’t play Saturday. “But when he beat us up there, he just controlled us.”

Maybe Strasburg would have gotten off easier had Minor not thrown the biggest pitch of the season’s first three months: A change-up to Ian Desmond that induced a double play with the bases loaded. Minor had yielded runs in the first and second innings and wobbling in the third. The Nationals had gone walk, single, walk, whereupon pitching coach Roger McDowell finally roused himself.

Said Minor, recalling his coach’s message: “He said, ‘We’re all right. Get the double play and we’re out of this.’ It was better having had a little break and realizing it’s not as bad as what you might think.”

Well, yes. That’s the purpose of a mound visit, a strategic device the Braves can be slow to utilize. But this consultation could have worked no better. The first-pitch change-up ended the inning, and when next Minor took the ball, his team was ahead 3-2 and Strasburg was done.

Said manager Fredi Gonzalez, speaking of Minor: “I think we took a step forward with him today. He competed his butt off.”

The Braves would score four more times off reliever Chien-Ming Wang, and they’d need the cushion. Minor tired in the sixth and the Braves needed four relievers to finish, but Kris Medlen and Chad Durbin worked out of pickles and the sweltering afternoon ended in smiles.

June concluded with the Braves 3 ½ games back, as opposed to 5 ½, which would have marked their biggest deficit of the season. They’d beaten one the best in Strasburg, even if extenuating meteorological circumstances did play some part. They can greet July feeling that their best work is still ahead, because – let’s be frank – they’ve been running in place since April.

Catching the Nats won’t be easy. Washington has the better rotation by some distance, and it figures to get outfielder Jayson Werth, who broke his wrist May 7, back soon. The Braves are better than they’ve played, but they’ll need more good starts from Minor and Randall Delgado to have a chance at winning the East.

Minor did his bit Saturday, winning a sizable game on a sizzling Saturday. Baseball being baseball, there’s a chance we’ll have no reason to recall this day three months hence. But if October arrives and the Braves are still playing for something, we should.

By Mark Bradley

80 comments Add your comment

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:42 pm

Mark, glad we have a less incendiary subject to talk about tonight.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:43 pm

Mark, Braves are a better subject right now than arrested Georgia players.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:44 pm

Certainly less incendiary than last night. Comments got out of hand. I was a part of that and i regret it.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:45 pm

I guess you’re seeing this but its not showing up on the blog.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:47 pm

It was so hot at Turner Field that every beer hawker that said “cold beer!!” needs to go to Confession.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:50 pm

It was sooo hot at Turner Field that Don Sutton’s hair perm fell and knocked out Jim Powell for 3 innings.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
8:51 pm

You failed to mention that the Nats have a much better manager. A manager who would have bunted Freddie Freeman over. We know from last Septembers collaspe that one mis-managed game can be deadly.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:51 pm

It was soo hot at Turner Field that the food vendors were hawking “cold dogs”.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:52 pm

It was sooo hot at Turner Field that the gametime temp was above the Mendoza line.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
8:53 pm

Great managers make great moves. Poor managers are fired.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
8:54 pm

It was so hot that Fredi couldn’t keep running him out there he just had to walk.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:54 pm

It was soooo hot at Turner Field today that the Bravos thought fans were doing the “chop” during the entire game. Not so. The Gnats were swarming. Heh, heh

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:55 pm

It was sooo hot at Turner Field today that Snitker got 5 Braves thrown out at the plate when he was only shooing gnats.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
8:56 pm

It was so hot today Barry Bonds tested positive for Snapple.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
8:58 pm

It was soooo hot at Turner Field that Minor was promoted to Major.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
8:58 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field, Walter Banks couldn’t think of anything to go with the number 104.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:00 pm

It was sooo hot at Turner Field today Roger Clemens, attending the game, said “this is what hell must be like without HGH”.

1991 braves

June 30th, 2012
9:00 pm

You have got to be kidding, right?? First of all the braves didn’t beat Strasburg, the heat did. And why do you always ask what the idiot manager Fred Flintstone has to say?? This guy has about as much knowledge about baseball as your average fan on these blogs. Yet, we have to read after every game what this moron has to say. But hey, you never ask him a question about his inept managerial decisions. You only sugar coat your questions. Why don’t you grow a pair and ask this moron the questions that need to be asked. Like yesterday when the idiot refused to bunt over Freeman when he was at 2nd base and no outs, with the worst pinch hitter in baseball at the plate. Don’t worry, nobody really cares anymore what you or this idiot have to say. That’s why i’m the only one on this blog now. This is not a sizable win, this is a lucky win. And if you or this idiot manager think this will turn Minor’s season around, that really tells everyone that the two of you are nothing more than DUMB&DUMBER!! Minor and Delgado are nothing more than AAA pitchers, and the braves are nothing more than a .500 team. They have no bench, one starter that is consistent, and one guy in the bullpen that is consistent. Add the fact that the braves have a terrible record against N.L. east rivals, and you have a .500 or below team. Compare that to the Nats, and you will see how far behind the braves and this franchise has fallen. So you go ahead and write about what a sizable win this was, and it will show what a terrible sports writer you really are. But everyone except Fred Flintstone knows that, but you can have comfort in the fact that Flintstone is an idiot, and Wren was an idiot to ever hire this clown. Wren, Fred&Bradley= 3 stooges!!!

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:00 pm

It was soo, soo very hot at Turner Field today that Bob Davidson refused to call a balk.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:01 pm

It was so hot at Turner Field today, Marvin Hudson enlarged his strike zone.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:03 pm

it was soo, soo, soo very hot at Turner Field today i boiled peanuts in my shoes.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:03 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field, when the catcher appealed to Brian Runge, he agreed it was HOT.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:05 pm

It was soo hot today at Turner that Nat Hudson (he of the famous “got a block behind him” on the Belue to Scott TD) changed his name to Gnat.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
9:06 pm

The sotfball question asked to Fredi by the AJC on his decision not to bunt was to be expected. What would have made news was if they would really question his moves. If this was Larry Drew making these kind of decisions for the hawks he would be run out of town on a rail.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:07 pm

It was sooo hot today at TF that Guy McIntyre changed his name to Gay. NOOO. that’s just a joke.

magiccyclopsh8er

June 30th, 2012
9:09 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field, Drew Brees admitted the Saints bounty system existed.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
9:10 pm

Some years ago when the braves announcers questioned the teams effort they were kicked off the charter. These beat riders don’t want to be kicked out of the clubhouse or off the Harley rides in the off season.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:10 pm

it was soo, soo very hot today that at the ballgame some Nat fan suggested i go to hell and i said i appreciated his concern for my saftey.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:10 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field, I couldn’t yell Fire Freddie when he came out of the dugout.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
9:11 pm

It is so hot that Bradley is not handing out Kudos.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:11 pm

it was sooo hot today at Turner, i asked if the coach had ever drew a breeze.

ACE

June 30th, 2012
9:12 pm

It was so hot that this is how the hot seat should be feeling for Fredi and his managerial moves.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:12 pm

it was sooo very hot today that Mike was minor.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:14 pm

it ws so hot that Wren told Fredi he was on the hot seat and Fredi replied ” thanks! I can use the cooling off!”

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:15 pm

it was soo hot today at Turner when i yelled “fire” people came rushing up to me to cool off.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:15 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field that Frank Wren’s makeup was running faster than the Braves.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:17 pm

it was soo hot at Turner today when i turned to my wife and said “this is what hell must be like” she replied “i dont think they play baseball in hell”.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:18 pm

it was soo hot at Turner Field today Matty Ice was Matty Lukewarm.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:19 pm

It was soo hot at Turner I was looking for anyone to give me the cold shoulder!

Robert

June 30th, 2012
9:20 pm

Fredi Gonzalez is certainly not the best manager in baseball. He is, in fact, very average. But please remember that he is a million-fold better than the abolsute idiot that managed from mid-1990 thru 2010

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:23 pm

Fave movies for today: The Iceman Cometh; Ice Station Zebra.
Fave music: Ice Tea
Fave drink: ice tea
Fave football move: Icing the kicker
Fave sport: Ice Hockey; Ice Skating
Fave venue: Rockefeller Plaza

Ralph

June 30th, 2012
9:26 pm

Said manager Fredi Gonzalez, speaking of Minor: “I think we took a step forward with him today

Only bad thing about that is that Minor has in the past taken one step forward then took two steps backward.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:29 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field that the pizza was warm.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:32 pm

it was soo hot today that i swear i saw my pet mouse chasing a stray cat across the yard

Hillbilly D

June 30th, 2012
9:33 pm

I love baseball as much as anybody but it’s plumb crazy to play in that kind of heat. They’ve got lights, why not change the game to the P.M. They change starting times for TV all the time, so why not for common sense?

Bryan

June 30th, 2012
9:33 pm

Fredi will get his fat gut in the way of any momentum the team gains. He can’t help it.

Billy Beaneater

June 30th, 2012
9:35 pm

It was so hot today at Turner Field that when Freddie tipped his cap, an ice cube fell off his head.

todd grantham

June 30th, 2012
9:51 pm

2 columns in a row Mark with not the slightest acknowldgement of first. I left my first wife for less than that.

Mark Bradley

June 30th, 2012
9:52 pm

Kudos. And kudos.

Bob From Cobb

June 30th, 2012
9:53 pm

todd grantham. Do us a favor. Leave the comedy to the professionals. Or get a better writer. And if you continue in this vein,.get better material. Johnny Carson you’re not.