Several Braves said after a workout and an exhibition game last month at SunTrust Park that the ball carried better there than it did at Turner Field, and early results would indicate they knew what they were talking about.
Brandon Phillips and Adonis Garcia hit consecutive home runs in the sixth inning to send the Braves and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to a 4-2 win Saturday night against the San Diego Padres, giving the Braves a three-game winning streak and 2-0 record at their new home ballpark.
“Right now we’re having fun,” said Phillips, who also teamed with shortstop Dansby Swanson for a key double play with two runners on in the seventh inning, with Phillips catching the toss from Swanson bare-handed and throwing to first base in one motion for a bang-bang play to get Wil Myers.
“Any time you are winning you are having fun. We’re all just learning each other. That’s what it’s about,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of veterans, we have a lot of young guys. We are coming together and hopefully we keep on winning.”
Ender Inciarte hit a two-run homer in the Braves’ 5-2 win Friday that marked the official opening of the park, and there were four homers in Game 2 including consecutive homers by Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges in the second inning to give the Padres a 2-0 lead.
Dickey (1-1) settled in after those homers and came through with a strong performance to earn his first win for the Braves in the 42-year-old former Cy Young Award winner’s second start, allowing seven hits and two runs with one walk and six strikeouts in six-plus innings.
He left after giving up consecutive infield hits to start the seventh inning, then Jose Ramirez got a line-out and double-play grounder to begin a third consecutive strong bullpen performance during Atlanta’s winning streak.
Ramirez, Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson (third save) pitched an inning apiece as the bullpen stretched its scoreless-innings streak to 13, during which relievers had allowed just three hits and one walk with 15 strikeouts.
“I thought (catcher) Kurt (Suzuki) did a great job tonight,” Dickey said. “I thought the bullpen was fantastic – Ramirez, Vizcaino, J.J. is right on point…. There’s a lot of great things going on for us right now. We’ve just got to keep the momentum. I said all along it’s just about finding a rhythm here early on.
“Now that we have a little bit more of a routine going on, not so many days off to navigate around, our guys are getting in a little bit more of a groove. I think you’re starting to see what we’re capable of.”
After improving to 4-6, the Braves are assured of at least a split of the opening four-game series at SunTrust Park, where they had their second consecutive sellout crowd of 41,149. They can clinch the series with a win Sunday afternoon when Bartolo Colon makes his first home start for the Braves.
The Braves tied the score with two runs in the third inning on four singles including RBI hits from Swanson and Nick Markakis, and moved ahead in the sixth on back-to-back jacks from Phillips and Garcia to start the inning against left-hander Clayton Richard. It was the first home run for each this season.
“(Phillips) gave me a shot in the arm,” Dickey said, “because when I saw that go out and it gave me a little bit of breathing room, I knew I was going to be OK.”
Dickey had a rough second inning, allowing two homers — the second by Hedges on a hanging curveball — before walking the No. 8 hitter with two out and hitting Richard with a pitch. But then he got into a groove, retiring the next eight batters before a fifth-inning single from Richard.
“I threw one curveball tonight and it got put over the fence, so I put that one in the back pocket after that,” Dickey said. “I bet I threw about 90 percent knuckleballs tonight. Especially in innings 5, 6, and when I went back out in the seventh and got those two balls hit back to me, one of which I for sure should have had. There was a lot of weak contact and late movement. It was very encouraging because it’s something I certainly can build off of.”
Myers added a two-out double in the fifth to give the Padres two runners in scoring position before Dickey got an inning-ending ground out from Yangervis Solarte. Hedges also had a two-out double in the sixth before Erick Aybar grounded out to end the inning.
Phillips put the Braves ahead with his no-doubt-about it home run to start the sixth, the veteran second baseman going down to get a 2-0 fastball and displaying still-considerable bat speed as he drove the ball some 10 rows into the left-center bleachers. Five pitches later, Garcia hit a homer that cleared a brick-topped 16-foot wall in right-center.
The Braves hit back-to-back homers just once in 2016, when Garcia and Tyler Flowers did it against the Cubs’ Jason Hammel on June 10 at Turner Field.