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Early lead and Dickey knuckleballs carry Braves past Phillies

R.A. Dickey delivers a pitch in the first inning of Thursday's game against the Phillies at SunTrust Park
R.A. Dickey delivers a pitch in the first inning of Thursday's game against the Phillies at SunTrust Park

One night after young Mike Foltynewicz silenced Phillies bats with fastballs, graybead R.A. Dickey kept them quiet with knuckleballs.

Dickey limited the Phillies to three hits and a season-low one run in seven innings of a 3-1 win at SunTrust Park, getting his first win in five weeks as the Braves salvaged a split of a four-game series.

Brandon Phillips and Matt Kemp each had two hits for the Braves including a double apiece in the first inning, when they staked Dickey to a 2-0 lead.

“We got up early and then he shut ‘em down,” Kemp said. “He did a great job today. Saw a lot of ugly swings, that means his ball was moving a lot. He mixed in his fastball, too. He got a lot of guys off-balance tonight.”

Dickey (4-4) faced one batter over the minimum through six innings, recorded at least one strikeout every inning — eight strikeouts total — and retired 15 straight batters between Tommy Joseph’s leadoff single in the second inning and Odubel Herrera’s leadoff double in the seventh.

"Tonight the movement was there, so I was getting a lot of swings and misses," Dickey said. "It wouldn't have mattered what team was up there tonight, I mean I had a complete-game kind of knuckleball. It was a shame that that (seventh) inning then fisted a couple and scored a run, because I felt like I could have gone the whole way tonight."

The Braves had a 3-0 lead before the Phillies got their second hit, with Atlanta’s third hit coming in the sixth inning when Matt Adams singled and Tyler Flowers doubled to bring him around.

Flowers caught Dickey for the first time since spring training, after veteran Kurt Suzuki caught his first 11 starts.

“I thought Tyler did a really good job with him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s like R.A. said, there’s some I’m going to throw you can’t catch, that’s the way it is. I was kind of holding my breath with a guy at third, but he did a good job. He stuck some called strikes, I thought, really well. And it wasn’t as taxing on him as I thought it might be.”

Dickey’s eight strikeouts with no walks were a complete reversal of the trend in his six-start winless streak before Thursday, during which he posted just 13 strikeouts with 21 walks in 35 2/3 innings. He had a 6.06 ERA and .312 opponents’ average in those starts and issued at least three walks in each of the last five starts before Thursday.

“I think that’s bothered him, because that’s not him,” Snitker said. “Tonight he was really happy with how it was, and I was too.”

Dickey said recent conversations and work with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez helped him get straightened out.

“We had a good talk this week about, you know when you go out there sometimes trying not to walk guys, that’s exactly what happens a lot of times,” Dickey said. “Sometimes it’s better just to go out there and think about getting outs. At the end of the night you look at the scoreboard and that’s what you’ve done, you haven’t walked anybody or you’ve walked one. And that’s what happened tonight.

“I told Snit at the end of the night, I said, hey man, this is more what I feel like you should expect out of me.”

The Phillies had only one runner reach base before the seventh inning, when they got a run after Herrera’s double. He scored two outs later on Maikel Franco’s single to cut the lead to 3-1.

After Joseph’s leadoff single in the first inning, he advanced to second on a passed ball and went to third on a fly-out. But Dickey stranded him there by striking out Michael Saunders and getting Cameron Rupp on an infield pop-up.

Dickey threw 68 strikes in 101 pitches and pitched more than six innings for the first time since lasting seven innings in a 3-1 loss at Miami on May 14. The win was his first since May 2 at New York, when he allowed four hits and three runs in six innings in a 9-7 decision against the Mets.

In his last start Saturday at Cincinnati, the Braves scored five runs in the fifth inning and had a 5-1 lead. But the Reds chased Dickey from the game during a four-run sixth inning and beat the Braves in 12 innings.

They gave him a multi-run lead a lot earlier Thursday, and this time Dickey protected it and pitched just like the Braves envisioned when they signed him, going deep in the game and easing the bullpen’s workload. Braves starters Jaime Garcia, Foltynewicz and Dickey have a 1.66 ERA in the past three games, lasting at least seven innings in each.

Phillips has four multi-hit games in his past five and a .347 average and nine multi-hit games in his past 20. He got the first hit Thursday against Phillies rookie Ben Lively (1-1), who made his second start and walked Ender Inciarte to start the first inning.

Phillips followed with a double, Nick Markakis drove in a run with a ground-out, and Kemp doubled to make it a 2-0 lead.

“(Lively) just made a lot of mistakes today,” Phillips said. “He had great stuff, he kept us off-balance a little bit, but he left some balls up and we took advantage of his mistakes. Honestly I didn’t even know that was his second start. I just go up there and see the ball, hit the ball.”