Braves right-hander Bartolo Colon is the oldest player in the major leagues. Through seven starts of he also was among the least effective pitchers.
That changed on Monday against the Blue Jays, when Colon finally pitched well enough to give the Braves a chance. It turned out he was better than necessary because the Braves offense erupted during a 10-6 interleague victory at the Rogers Centre.
“That starter sets the tone,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “When he’s out there throwing up zeroes and getting you off the field and getting you in the dugout, it’s a big help for your whole team.”
The Braves (14-21) have won three of four games since their second six-game losing streak of the season. Colon allowed two earned runs over five innings against the Blue Jays while Freddie Freeman (three-run homer) and Nick Markakis (two hits, three RBIs) led the offensive outburst.
Colon, 43, didn’t have to be great against the Blue Jays (17-22). The Braves staked him to leads of 3-0, 4-1 and 6-2 while chasing right-hander Mike Bolsinger after 4 2/3 innings. They kept the roll going against Toronto’s bullpen.
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Colon entered the game with a 7.22 ERA that was worst in the majors among qualifying pitchers. The two earned runs allowed by Colon were the fewest since he gave up one over seven innings to the Padres over on April 16.
“I’m happy with the direction I’m going,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I’m happy with the direction we are pitching. We hit a little bit of a skid there and a lot of that was my fault. We were skidding when it was my turn. I’ve just got to keep working my butt off to get where I need to be.”
The Blue Jays pulled within 6-3 in the fifth before Freeman buried them with his 13th homer of the season. The three-run shot to center field against Blue Jays reliever Leonel Campos was Freeman’s fourth with runners on base this season.
The Braves were 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position and scored five runs with two outs. Four players had multiple hits, led by outfielder Matt Kemp’s four hits with two doubles.
“That’s kind of a shift in direction from what’s happened so far early in the season,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “We were able to come up with some big hits today and, in the past, it always seems like they’ve been standing where we’ve been hitting them. It’s definitely encouraging. Any time you can string together at-bats consistently up-and-down the lineup like we did tonight it’s definitely a positive step going forward.”
The big offensive night wasn’t totally surprising because the Braves have shown signs of doing it this season. Colon’s solid outing was a shift after he’d struggled for much of the season.
Colon relies heavily on his fastball and that pitch appeared to have more movement against the Blue Jays. But he said his secondary pitches were key to holding the Blue Jays to seven hits and two walks.
“Everything was kind of working today,” Colon said. “Everything felt good. I started throwing some off-speed pitches in the first inning and I usually don’t do that. I usually kind of throw fastballs in the first. The off-speed stuff gave me the results I was looking for.”
Colon threw just 81 pitches through five innings but manager Brian Snitker turned to the bullpen once Freeman’s homer and a run-scoring single by Adonis Garcia extended the lead to 10-3 in the sixth. Colon said he’s been feeling ill with what he described as a head cold and stomach bug.
The Blue Jays trimmed the lead to 10-6 in the ninth inning when Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer against Josh Collmenter with one out. Collmenter retired Devon Travis and Ryan Goins to end the game.
The Blue Jays scored their first run when Smoak and Devon Travis hit consecutive ground-rule doubles against Colon in the second inning. Blue Jays catcher Mike Ohlman’s first major league hit was a two-out, RBI single in the fourth inning that followed an error by shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Markakis’ two-out, two-run single in the first inning and Swanson’s sacrifice fly in the second put the Braves ahead 3-0. Swanson’s RBI single in the fourth made it 4-1 and Markakis and Garcia each hit run-scoring singles in the fifth for a 6-1 lead.
The Blue Jays set a franchise record by hitting five batters. Only one of the Braves players hit by a pitch, Garcia, went on to score a run.