Evan Gattis went from non-roster spring training invitee to Braves cleanup hitter in under two months, and Tuesday night the rookie catcher provided another example of why his stock has spiked so quickly.
Gattis hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and Kris Medlen and the bullpen held on for a 3-2 win against Miami at Marlins Park, pushing the Braves’ winning streak to five games and majors-best record to 7-1.
“What else can you say about Evan Gattis?” Medlen said. “He was the difference in the game, for me.”
Medlen (1-1) limited the Marlins to three hits and one unearned run in seven innings, with two walks and one strikeout. Miami scored in the second inning after Braves center fielder B.J. Upton dropped a fly ball that allowed Greg Dobbs to reach second base to start the inning.
“I think the last three innings he didn’t even get to double digits in pitches,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Medlen, who retired his last 10 batters and threw 24 pitches in his last three innings after throwing 66 in the first four. “They got an unearned run on a ball we dropped in the outfield, and that was pretty much it. He did a heck of a job.
“I’m glad we were able to get him some runs and get him the win.”
Andrelton added three hits for the Braves, who have their best eight-game start since they were 7-1 in 2007.
After Justin Upton’s RBI double in the eighth pushed the lead to 3-1, the Marlins scored a run in the bottom of the eighth on Placido Polanco’s two-out single off left-hander Eric O’Flaherty. The Braves chose to intentionally walk Giancarlo Stanton with a runner at third and two out to put the potential tying run on base.
O’Flaherty induced a Greg Dobbs groundout to avoid further damage after the Polanco hit.
“(Stanton) is a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t like (walking Stanton), but you’ve got to pick your poison.”
Closer Craig Kimbrel walked Donovan Solano to start the ninth. Rob Brantly followed by popping up a bunt that third-base late-inning defensive replacement Ramiro Pena caught while charging in, then threw quickly to first for the double play before Solano could get back. Kimbrel struck out Adeiny Hechavarria for his fourth save.
Medlen is 10-1 with a 1.03 ERA in 14 starts since moving from the bullpen to the rotation at the end of July. He had a major league-record streak of 23 consecutive team wins in games he started, a streak that ended Thursday with a 2-0 loss to the Phillies and Cliff Lee in the third game of the season.
After Brantly’s two-out walk in the fourth put Marlins on the corners with the Braves ahead 2-1, Hechavarria grounded out to end that threat and begin a stretch of 10 batters retired by Medlen.
“The same with the first start, I think once the adrenaline kind of wore off I was able to calm down and stay back in my delivery and just make some better pitches,” Medlen said. “Once I felt my delivery kind of click, I felt comfortable and knew if I made the pitches I was trying to make, I’d have some quicker at-bats. The last three innings I threw, I think I had single-digit pitch counts each inning. So that felt like, I guess, the old me.
“I was just mixing in pitches better and executing pitches.”
A few hours after Gonzalez said that Gattis would start more games than catcher Gerald Laird for at least the next couple of weeks, Gattis demonstrated why the decision was made. His homer to center off left-hander Wade LeBlanc (0-2) was Gattis’ second in his 16th at-bat.
Gattis added a double to the base of the center-field wall in the sixth inning. The 26-year-old rookie has a .368 average (7-for-19) in five games.
With first baseman Freddie Freeman on the 15-day disabled list until at least April 22, Gonzalez said he would start Gattis in a majority of games because he provides a strong option in the cleanup spot. Freeman batted the cleanup spot before straining an oblique Saturday.
What surprised Medlen was how good Gattis was behind the plate.
“I was a little nervous, honestly, in the spring, having thrown to two catchers my entire career and having to throw to two new ones (Laird and Gattis),” he said. “And I mean, this is the first time I’ve thrown to (Gattis) and I was blown away. He’s really good back there.
“He starts trying to invent stuff, too. That’s what Rossy (former Braves catcher David Ross) kind of did, too. The double to Polanco, he called an inside curveball, and I’ve never intentionally tried to throw an inside curveball. I mean, he’s just inventing stuff out there. That’s what I try to do. I try to mix in as many pitches as I can and just be aggressive, and he was great back there.”
Veteran catcher Brian McCann is recovering from shoulder surgery and could come off the DL in late April or early May, although the Braves have given no specific timetable or said how much he’ll be able to catch initially once he’s back.
Simmons got the Braves started with a one-out single in the first inning. The Marlins probably breathed easier after LeBlanc struck out major league home-run leader Justin Upton for the second out, but three pitches later Gattis reached out for a 1-1 change-up on the outer edge of plate, muscling it over the fence in center for a 2-0 lead.
After the Marlins scored their unearned run in the second, the score didn’t change again until the eighth inning, when Upton hit an RBI double high off the center-field wall near the 418 (feet) sign. It would’ve been his seventh homer if hit in just about any other part of any other ballpark in the majors.
Simmons led off the eighth with an infield single and advanced to second on reliever A.J. Ramos’ throwing error on the play. Upton was up next and drove him in for his team-high ninth RBI.
Simmons also saved a potential run in the fourth inning. After Polanco hit a leadoff double down the third-base line and advanced to third on a groundout, Simmons showed off his flashy defense by fielding a hard-hit grounder on the front edge of the infield grass and throwing to first for the second out of the inning.