When a badly damaged shoulder hindered Brian McCann for most of a career-worst season in 2012, some folks suggested the veteran catcher’s best days were behind him, that he might not be a truly elite hitter again.
Nobody is saying that now.
McCann hit a tie-breaking, three-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning Friday, lifting the Braves to a 6-4 win against the Chicago White Sox in their first game since the All-Star break.
“I’ve been feeling good for a while now,” said McCann, who has hit .400 with six homers and 18 RBIs in his past 17 games.
Andrelton Simmons also hit a two-run homer for the Braves, who got 7 1/3 innings from Tim Hudson for his third consecutive win and his first in five starts at U.S. Cellular Field. Hudson (7-7) was charged with eight hits, four runs and two walks, the last two runs coming in the eighth, including one after he left the game.
The White Sox cut the lead to 5-4 in the eighth, but Chris Johnson’s two-out single in the ninth provided a two-run cushion for Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who converted his 27th save.
McCann picked up where he left off at the break, fouling off six pitches before homering on the 11th pitch of his sixth-inning at-bat against left-hander John Danks (2-7). McCann has homered in each of his past three games, and has 12 extra-base hits in his past 17 games.
“He looks really good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a presence in that middle lineup.”
His three-week tear before the break earned McCann a spot on the National League All-Star team as an injury replacement for teammate Freddie Freeman, the seventh All-Star berth in McCann’s eight full seasons in the majors.
“I got to swing a little bit over the All-Star break at the game (during batting practice),” McCann said. “I think it takes every player in baseball four or five innings to get back in the swing of things after you take four or five days off. It was nice to get it in the first game back.”
With the score tied 2-all, rookie Joey Terdoslavich — filling in for Freeman in his second major league start — singled to start the sixth inning. After a failed bunt attempt by Jose Constanza and a strikeout, Justin Upton singled and the Braves had two on for McCann.
He fell behind in the count 1-2 and grinded out the kind of at-bat that stirs teammates. After both runners advanced on a wild pitch and McCann had fouled off six pitches, he homered on a full-count change-up, pulling the pitch over the right-field fence and into the Braves’ bullpen for a 5-2 lead.
“I was covering away,” McCann said of his approach against Danks. “He hung a changeup in, and I was lucky enough to put the good part of the bat on it.”
It was the 13th homer in 54 games for McCann, who missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. The Mets’ John Buck led National League catchers with 14 homers in 77 games before Friday.
“It’s pretty evident that his shoulder was bothering him, holding him back from a performance standpoint over the past couple of years,” Hudson said. “It’s nice to see him finally get back healthy and be the kind of hitter that we always knew he was. This game is tough enough to go out there and be successful, much less when you have some nagging injuries that most people don’t quite understand what you’re dealing with.”
The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the third when Simmons hit his ninth homer — three more than his combined total last season in the major and minor leagues, his previous career high. He has four homers and 10 RBIs in his past 16 games.
When Hudson gave back the lead in the third on three hits, including Alex Rios’ two-run, two-out double, it looked like another long night on Chicago’s South Side. Hudson was 0-3 with a 10.45 ERA in four previous starts at U.S. Cellular Field, his worst record and ERA at any of 38 big-league ballparks.
“I haven’t fared too well here over the years,” said Hudson, whose first three starts at the ballpark came with Oakland in 2002 and before. “I don’t think I’ve had a lot of games pitched here, but when I have pitched here it hasn’t been too pretty at times. It’s nice to finally get in the right column. It was still close; it’s never easy. But a win’s a win.”
Terdoslavich made a diving defensive play for the third out in the inning, and Hudson induced double-play grounders after a leadoff single in the fourth and after consecutive one-out singles in the fifth.
“I thought he pitched great tonight,” McCann said. “His sinker was really darting down in the zone. He was working his four-seamer up. His curveball, I thought, was the best it’s been in a while. So, when he can elevate, when he can pitch north and south (in the strike zone), he’s really good
In addition to his home run, Simmons made his usual quota of spectacular defensive plays, including starting an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners in the fifth.
“It was one of the big keys to the game,” Hudson said. “With a runner on third base, make a double play there. Especially with a tough hop that Simmons had, still able to turn it. Got me out of a jam…. He’s awesome, man.”
Hudson retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh before running into trouble in the eighth after a leadoff walk to Alejandro De Aza.
Alexei Ramirez followed with a double that cut the lead to 5-3. One out later, Hudson was replaced by lefty Luis Avilan, who got Adam Dunn on a ground out before giving way to Jordan Walden. Jeff Keppinger’s RBI single on Walden’s 0-2 fastball reduced the lead to 5-4.