For a team still trying to find its footing after losing Jason Heyward to a broken jaw, Turner Field was a pretty good place to start.
The Braves opened a nine-game homestand Tuesday with a 2-0 win over the Indians and re-established a little order, with their second win in five games post-Heyward.
The Braves have averaged only 2.4 runs per game since Heyward got hit in the face by a Jonathon Niese pitch, and they got outhit 6-3 by the Indians Tuesday night, but the way rookie Alex Wood is pitching, it didn’t matter much.
The Braves won for the fourth time in five starts in August behind Wood, who out-lasted and out-pitched the Indians up-and-comer Danny Salazar, who was on a short leash and out of the game after four innings and 77 pitches.
Wood pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings despite a career-high four walks and combined with Luis Ayala, Scott Downs, Luis Avilan and Craig Kimbrel for the Braves’ 11th shutout of the year. The save was Kimbrel’s majors-leading 42nd overall and his franchise-record 32nd in a row.
“Today wasn’t one of his best outings,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Wood. “He sprayed it around a little bit and got his pitch count up, but he’s tough to take swings at. And the composure he shows for a young man who just finished college a year ago, it’s nice to see. It’s refreshing.”
The Braves maintained a 13-game lead in the NL East with 31 games to play. Their magic number is 19.
Some of the names have changed since early in the season – newly-acquired Elliot Johnson supplied a two-run triple Tuesday. So have the opponents - the Cleveland Indians dropped in for one last interleague series. But if the Braves have been consistent with anything this season, it’s winning at home. They moved to 45-18 at Turner Field this season, a majors’-best .714 home winning percentage.
The Indians were making their first trip to Turner Field since 2004 and Johnson played his first game there as a Brave Tuesday night. Johnson promptly tripled in his first at-bat over right fielder Drew Stubbs’ head for 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Johnson had been 2-for-60 in the previous two months with the Kansas City Royals. He is 5-for-18 (.278) one game into his second series since the Braves claimed off waivers.
“You can go out here every day and start over from scratch,” Johnson said. “…It’s nicer when you don’t have to dig out of a hole you’ve created for yourself. I got a fastball out over (the plate) and hit it well enough to get it out over Stubbs’ head and we get a couple runs off a guy that can obviously throw really, really hard. But Woody was the story today, really did a great job of commanding all of his pitches and keeping them off-balance.”
The 2-0 lead proved good enough for Wood, who battled some command problems with four walks and a wild pitch, but worked through it, like he has everything else this month. Wood is now 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA (three earned runs in 30 innings) in five starts in August, allowing one or no runs in each of them.
Only three pitchers in the majors entered Tuesday night with an ERA of 0.90 or less in August (min. 25 innings): Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (0.90), Jose Fernandez of the Marlins (0.82) and Mat Latos of the Reds (0.89).
“It was one of those random days where my fastball command wasn’t as good as it normally is,” said Wood, now 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA overall. “I think most of the walks I had were all just fastballs out of the zone. One of those things where I had to battle tonight and me and (Brian McCann) ended up making some pitches when we needed to and it turned out all right.”
Wood scattered five hits and struck out five. He left a runner on in the sixth inning, up 2-0, and watched Ayala walk Stubbs to bring up the winning run, but Downs struck out the pinch-hitting Jason Giambi to end the inning.
Wood stranded Asdrubal Cabrera at third base in the fourth inning getting the key second out on a comebacker to the mound from Stubbs. He benefitted from a pair of nice plays at shortstop from Andrelton Simmons including a bare-handed highlight to nab Mike Aviles in the sixth. Freddie Freeman completed the plate with a somersault flourish at first base.
“We’ve got Simmons over at short making web gems every day, it seems like,” said Johnson, who had a good view from second base. “Or hand gems – whatever you want to call it – because he didn’t use his glove. That was the best play of the night for sure.”
Wood endured a bout of wildness in the third inning, issuing back-to-back walks and a wild pitch with two outs. But a quick visit to the mound from pitching coach Roger McDowell and three strikes later, Wood was out of the inning on a groundout.
“I get going pretty fast and I need to slow down sometimes,” Wood said. “That’s one of the reasons he came out there was to slow me down a little bit and tell me to make my pitches and then go about my business.”