Home runs have undermined Mike Minor on many occasions in what’s been a wholly disappointing season for the Braves left-hander, but it was small stuff that caused the most problems for him Tuesday.
Minor showed signs of progress in his first start since Aug. 1, but a few mistake pitches, a couple of bloop hits and another poor Atlanta offensive performance gave the Dodgers a 4-2 win Turner Field, the Braves’ 11th loss in 13 games including five in as many games against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers’ first three runs scored on two bloop hits and a groundout, and Minor gave up two runs in the fifth inning after the Braves had taken a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
To add further insult, a ninth-inning error by Braves shortstop Emilio Bonifacio – his second in as many nights – let Darwin Barney not only reach base but get to second, and he scored one out later on a wild-pitch by David Hale. It was another unsightly late-game inning for the Braves, after a three-run mess of an eighth inning in Monday’s 6-2 series-opening loss.
The Braves are 0-5 against the Dodgers in the past two weeks, and have scored a total of seven runs in the last four of those games. They are 15-17 in their past 32 games at Turner Field, and scored two runs or fewer in 11 of the last 25 of those games.
Minor (4-8) was charged with eight hits, three runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, and also hit Justin Turner with an 0-1 fastball with one out in the second inning. Turner ended up scoring the first run of the game after advancing on a Juan Uribe single and racing home on a two-out bloop single to right field by No. 8 hitter Barney.
It had to be viewed as an encouraging performance by Minor, who had gone 2-3 with a 7.33 ERA in his previous 10 starts while allowing 12 homers in 54 innings, including six homers allowed in his past four home starts.
He had an 8.71 ERA and .400 opponents’ average in his last four starts before the Braves had him take a proverbial time out to rest, regroup and try to come back to finish the season strong.
Minor’s most costly mistakes Tuesday were hitting Turner with a pitch when ahead in the count, and surrendering a hit to pitcher Dan Haren on a curveball when ahead in the count 1-2 in the two-run fifth inning, when the Braves needed a shutdown inning from their pitcher after taking a lead in the fourth.
B.J. Upton’s first-pitch homer with two out in the fourth had put the Braves ahead 2-1 and made him 11-for-37 with six homers in his career against Haren. It was Upton’s ninth homer and second in his four starts on the homestand, the other coming against Stephen Strasburg on Friday. Upton homered on a Strasburg curveball and Haren’s first-pitch splitter.
Haren (10-9) gave up six hits and two runs in six innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He won his second consecutive start since posting a 10.03 ERA during a five-start losing streak.
The Dodgers’ fifth inning was jump-started by Haren’s one-out single, the latest in a too-frequent occurrence for the Braves: allowing hits by opposing pitchers. Julio Teheran gave up two hits to Dodgers starter Kevin Correia in the series opener.
Carl Crawford followed Haren with a double before Yasiel Puig’s groundout drove in the tying run. One out later, Matt Kemp’s single on a pop fly to shallow right gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.
Shallow right field has been a problematic area for Braves defenders Tommy La Stella and Jason Heyward a couple of times in the past two weeks. Second baseman La Stella tried to race back to catch Kemp’s fly ball, but couldn’t haul it in.
The lead had changed hands just that quickly.
The Braves trailed 1-0 before capitalizing on center fielder Puig’s famous aggressiveness to score the tying run in the third inning. La Stella hit a one-out single and was on first base when Justin Upton hit a two-out bloop to shallow center, with Puig racing in and attempting a diving attempt.
The ball landed a foot in front of his glove and La Stella, running on the play with two out, never slowed as he raced all the way around from first base to score.
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