NEW YORK — If the Mets thought John Gant were capable of pitching like he did Friday night, they probably wouldn’t have have been so willing to include him in a trade to the Braves eleven months ago.
Facing the Mets in a series opener at Citi Field, two levels of baseball higher than Gant made it to in the Mets organization, the rookie right-hander pitched a gem for 6 2/3 innings of a 5-1 Braves win, collecting his first big-league win in his second start, ninth game and already his fourth callup from Triple-A this season.
“I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this year, and it’s nice to have this opportunity,” Gant (1-1) said after allowing just two hits, one run and two walks with five strikeouts. “It’s amazing. It feels so good.”
Gant left after walking Kelly Johnson with two out in the seventh inning on his 104th pitch, the Braves leading 4-1. The Mets proceded to load the bases with a single and walk against reliever Chris Withrow before left-hander Hunter Cervenka struck out Wilmer Flores to end the inning.
Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman had consecutive two-out RBI doubles in the third inning against Matt Harvey to give the Braves a 2-1 lead on the way to their third consecutive win since a four-game skid. They’ve won nine of 21, which qualifies as legit improvement for a team that entered Friday tied for the majors’ worst record.
A.J. Pierzynski and Nick Markakis added RBI singles for the Braves (21-46), who won for the second time in seven games against the Mets this season, both wins against Harvey (4-9). But the story Friday night was Gant.
“Oh, (Gant) was impressive,” Inciarte said. “The way he carried us. When you make three quick outs and then you’re going to go hit again, it’s very comfortable for us.”
A Savannah native who grew up a Braves fan, Gant threw on the Citi Field mound one other time — for a pre-draft workout in 2011. The Mets selected him in the 21st round out of Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla.
He pitched parts of five minor league seasons before the Mets traded Gant and minor league pitcher Robert Whalen to the Braves in July 2015 for veteran infielders Johnson and Juan Uribe.
“This was a little more intense than that situation,” Gant said of his second time on the mound at Citi Field, in Friday night’s series opener.
“He looked really confident,” said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker, who had Gant in Triple-A this season before Snitker was promoted to replace the fired Fredi Gonzalez. “I kind of felt that the last time (Gant’s first major league start), too, he just threw more strikes tonight. He’s got a nice mix to keep guys off-balance, and I thought he did a really good job with that.”
Shuffling back and forth all season between Gwinnett and the majors, Gant had seven big-league relief appearances (6.17 ERA, .326 opponents’ average) before injuries to other pitchers opened an opportunity for him to start.
In his first start Sunday against the Cubs, he was charged with four hits, four walks and three runs (two earned) in 4 1/3 innings. He was solid for most of that outing, but it certainly didn’t seem a harbinger for the stellar performance he turned in Friday against the Mets.
“I didn’t put expectations on him,” Snitker said. “I’ve seen him now for a while this year and just like what he’s capable of doing. He definitely doesn’t get caught up in the moment. I think he’s a very confident kid and he doesn’t seem to rattle. He stayed on the attack with all his pitches. We saw glimpses of it in his last start, that’s why we ran him back out there this time.”
Freeman had three hits and is 13-for-23 (.565) with seven extra-base hits (three home runs) and six RBIs in the past five games. That includes a trio of three-hit games and a four-hit game Wednesday when he hit for the cycle.
Harvey allowed seven hits, four runs and two walks in six innings, twice as many runs as he gave up in 20 innings over his previous three starts, and only one more hit than he had allowed in that stretch. The former All-Star had posted a 0.90 ERA and .127 opponents’ average in his past three starts, after going 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA and .330 OA in his first 10.
On Friday, Harvey was entirely outpitched by Gant, 23, who gave up a leadoff double to Curtis Granderson in the first inning and didn’t allow another hit until Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-out double in the sixth.
Granderson scored two groundouts later to give the Mets a 1-0 lead, and the only other Met to reach base before the sixth inning was catcher Kevin Piawecki on a leadoff walk in the third. Gant retired nine consecutive batters after Granderson’s double in the first inning, and set down the next 11 after the third-inning walk.