Having already made a strong case for consideration as staff ace, Braves pitcher Mike Minor branched out to impactful hitting Saturday night against the Mets.
His two hits included a two-run homer to start a five-run outburst in the fifth inning, propelling the Braves to a 6-0 shutout against the Mets and extending their winning streak to eight games. It was Minor’s first homer since his senior year in high school in 2006.
“He did a terrific job, pitching and also helping himself out with the bat,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves began the evening by completing a 10-inning, 7-5 win in a game suspended after eight innings Friday because of rain.
In addition to swinging an uncharacteristic big stick, Minor (6-2) pitched another 7 1/3 innings of three-hit ball, with two walks and 10 strikeouts. Just the latest in a nearly uninterrupted string of solid-to-dominant performances by the lefty, who hasn’t looked back since flipping the switch on his career last year at midseason.
Minor is 13-6 with a 2.32 ERA in 25 starts since the beginning of July, with a sub-.200 opponents’ average and 21 quality starts in that period.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “He’s a tough lefty, he goes out there and throws strikes, pounds the zone. And he’s not afraid to pitch to contact. We’ve got a great defense behind him. He’s going to get his strikeouts, but he’s also going to let them put the ball in play.”
Now that Minor has gotten the pitching part down, he seems interested in joining the Tim Hudson-led hitting brigade among Braves pitchers. They lead National League pitchers with a .192 batting average, and also became the third NL team with multiple home runs from pitchers: Hudson has the other homer, and a .286 average with three RBIs.
“I think that’s the first ball of the year that I’ve barreled up,” Minor said. “It was kind of like a blur, really. When I came back in, Mac (catcher Brian McCann) was like, ‘That’s all great and everything, but you need to go back out there and pitch. It’s still early and you need to shut these guys down.’
“So that’s what I tried to focus on. I really didn’t try to live in that moment of the home run and all that. It was fun, but I knew I had to go back out there.”
The Braves used six consecutive two-out hits in the fifth inning, including doubles by Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton, to blow open what had been a scoreless game. They handed the skidding Mets their fifth consecutive loss and 12th in 15 games.
Atlanta lengthened its lead to 5 1/2 games over second-place Washington in the NL East, and goes for a third consecutive series sweep in a Sunday night nationally televised game on ESPN. The Braves have won 15 of the past 18 against the Mets, and Saturday was the 14th time in that stretch that they scored at least five runs, including the past five in a row.
Minor’s two-run homer off Dillon Gee (2-6) accounted for the first RBIs of his career and gave him his first multi-hit game. His two-out single in the third inning was the Braves’ first hit of the game.
It was a pair of two-out hits for a pitcher who was 8-for-108 (.074) in his major league career before Saturday. And Minor didn’t just scrape the fence with his first homer — he crushed it, driving it well into the lower seating level in left field. Strong winds held up or otherwise altered the flight of fly balls all night, but Minor’s homer made it out easily.
“I used to be a decent hitter in high school, so I hit more than one,” Minor said, when asked for any specifics about his last homer. “But I don’t remember, like, the last one or anything. And then I didn’t ever hit in college (at Vanderbilt).”
Gee had only allowed three singles and looked primed for his best start of the season. Then, the Braves dropped a hammer on him in the fifth.
Chris Johnson got the inning started with a two-out single, and Minor followed with his homer on a 2-1 fastball. Simmons doubled and scored on a Jason Heyward single, and Upton doubled for a 4-0 lead. Freeman singled to drive in the fifth run of the inning.
Gee was charged with eight hits and five runs in five innings as his ERA climbed to 6.34.
Freeman added another run-scoring single in the seventh inning to push the lead to 6-0 and move him into the team RBI lead with 30, one more than Upton and Evan Gattis.
The Braves’ winning streak is their longest since a 10-game streak during their 12-1 start. They didn’t win more than two consecutive games between the last game of the 10-game streak April 16 and the beginning of the current streak May 17, but now the Braves appear to have the engines humming again.