Freeman’s 3-run homer lifts Braves to win against Mets

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Freddie Freeman hit a three-run homer in the third inning, and for the second day in a row Braves pitching protected a lead provided by one swing of the bat.

Julio Teheran pitched three strong innings in his second start, and Craig Kimbrel and two other relievers shut out the Mets over the final three innings of a 3-2 Grapefruit League win at Champion Stadium.

Kimbrel, making his spring debut in the Braves’ eighth game, gave up an infield hit and a walk and did a couple of things that Atlanta fans have rarely seen him do: threw two change-ups, and picked off a runner at first base.

“It was good to get out there. It felt good,” said Kimbrel, who gave up an infield hit to Cesar Puello to start the seventh inning, then picked him off first base. He smiled. “The pickoff was nice. I don’t think I’ve done that in three or four years.

“I was missing with my fastball, just (barely) off on a few pitches. Threw the change-up twice; one of them was kind of a debacle, me and A.J. (Pierzynski) got mixed up there. But all in all it was a good first outing.”

The Mets scored an unearned run against Teheran in the first inning after an error against center-field prospect Mallex Smith, a speedster who had three hits in his first start, but made a few defensive plays that looked as if he couldn’t control his nervous energy.

After John Mayberry Jr.’s RBI single in the first, Teheran retired eight of the last nine batters he faced. He was charged with one hit, one unearned run and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Eric Stults, a veteran left-hander competing for a rotation spot, gave up four hits and one run in three innings and induced five groundball outs, including a pair of double plays.

“I actually felt sharper the first time out,” said Stults, who pitched two scoreless innings in his spring debut while piggybacking Teheran’s first start last week. “Today I had some deeper counts, fell behind more guys. I’m still pleased with the results.

“I’m a guy that tends to get more fly balls than ground balls, so that was the focus coming into camp, I wanted to see how many ground balls I could get. And it’s helping me out. The double plays have been huge for me.”

Freeman’s third-inning homer was his fifth hit, fourth extra-base hit and second homer in 11 at-bats this spring. He has a .455 average and team-high six RBIs.

“He really is swinging it good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It’s nice to see. You wish you could know when to stop playing him so he could carry that into the season. But we’ve still got a few days to go.”

Etc. Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons is scheduled to make his spring debut Thursday night against the Yankees. He's been nursing a strained oblique that he injured just before reporting to camp…. Third baseman Chris Johnson is set to play Wednesday against the Cardinals after missing four days with a sore left wrist…. Utility candidate Kelly Johnson is among the Braves who'll play in a 'B' game against the Astros at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Kississimmee…. Rookie reliever Arodys Vizcaino pitched a perfect ninth with one strikeout and threw consistently in the high-90 mph range.