Gattis’ two-run double gives Braves win

Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis were teammates at Single-A Rome in 2010, their first year of pro ball, and again in 2012 at Double-A Mississippi. So, what Simmons has seen Gattis do in pressure situations during the catcher’s first two major league seasons hasn’t surprised him as it has some others who didn’t know Gattis.

Two days after Gattis hit a 10th-inning walk-off homer to beat the Marlins in the series opener, he came off the bench and came through with a two-out, two-run pinch-hit double in the eighth inning, lifting the Braves to a 3-1 win in the series finale Wednesday afternoon at Turner Field.

“I’ve played with him since I signed and seen him do this since the beginning,” Simmons said. “I’ve seen it enough where you kind of call it before it happens. He doesn’t get fazed by anything. He’s locked in. No words. He doesn’t think, he just goes up there and does what he does.”

Braves starter Aaron Harang pitched brilliantly again, allowing one run, six hits and one walk with a season-high 11 strikeouts in six innings and getting no decision. Craig Kimbrel eased some concerns about his recent sore shoulder by pitching a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts for his sixth save.

But until Gattis came through with his big hit, it was starting to look like the Braves and their recently anemic offense might waste another strong performance from a starting pitcher. In his career as a pinch-hitter, Gattis is an astounding 7-for-13 with two doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs.

“It sure is nice to give him a day off and still bring him in in a pinch hit situation and it still impact the game,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves took the series 2-1, their sixth series win in seven this season.

The Braves only finished with seven runs and 19 hits in the series against a Marlins team that had been 0-7 on the road before winning a 1-0 game Tuesday. But the Braves’ recent offensive malaise hasn’t affected Gattis, who is 12-for-33 (.364) with two doubles, four homers and nine RBIs in his past nine games.

Chris Johnson drew a one-out walk and Dan Uggla bounced a two-out single up the middle against left-hander to set the table for Gattis. The Marlins brought in A.J. Ramos to face him, and Gattis pulled a 1-1 pitch from the right-hander — a 91-mph fastball — for a line-drive double to the left-field corner for the lead, thrilling a crowd of 21,508.

“I saw three pitches and got one I could handle,” Gattis said. “I was just trying to be loose, same thing with the home run the other day. Trying to be loose against a guy with a lot of velocity.”

Gattis has been a Marlins nemesis, batting .370 with 11 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 13 games against them.

Until his big hit, the story of the day was Harang and the ongoing domination by a Braves starting rotation that many believed would be a problematic area after spring-training injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Instead, it’s been the best rotation in baseball.

Braves starters have a majors-leading 1.50 ERA and have allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 of 21 games this season, including one or no earned runs allowed in 10 of the past 11 games.

According to Baseball Reference, Harang is the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1997 to begin a season with five consecutive appearances of six or more innings and one or fewer runs allowed. That included two starts in which the 35-year-old journeyman pitched no-hitters through six and seven innings.

Harang has allowed 15 hits, 13 walks and three runs with 33 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. Not bad for a guy the Braves signed on March 24 — the last week of spring training — after being released by the Indians.

“On the cheap, too, right?” Gonzalez said, referring to Harang’s one-year, $1 million contract. “He’s pitched really, really well. He gives us a good opportunity to win a ballgame every time he’s gone out there. He had 11 punch-outs today. It was nice to see him, a veteran guy, mix some pitches, still has 90, 91 in his pocket, with command on his fastball.”

Harang hasn’t needed much help from the bullpen, but he got some Wednesday after the first two batters in the seventh reached on a walk and a single. Harang got a standing ovation as he came the field and was replaced by Jordan Walden, who struck out the next three — Adeiny Hechavarria and pinch hitters Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Greg Dobbs — to keep the score tied. Walden has 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 scoreless innings over his past seven appearances.

“I thought we won the game there in the seventh inning, with Walden,” Gonzalez said. “Came in and faced those two left-handers. For me that was the turning point of the game. I know the eighth got a little hairy there, but for me that was a big inning to get out of it.”

Luis Avilan gave up a hit and a walk in the eighth before David Carpenter (1-0) got Casey McGehee on a line out to right.

Harang’s ERA dipped to a majors-leading 0.57 after he got the first two outs in the sixth inning before Giancarlo Stanton got jammed on a pitch and muscled an RBI bloop double to left-center field, beyond the reach of Braves infielders and enough to tie the score 1-1.

The Marlins had only two hits — both ground-ball singles — before a three-hit sixth, when they got a leadoff bunt single by Jeff Mathis and a two-out Marcell Ozuna single through the left side. That set up what was surely one of the weakest run-scoring extra-base hits of Stanton’s career, but enough to give him his majors-leading 27th RBI.

Before the consecutive hits by Ozuna and Stanton, opposing hitters were 3-for-36 (.083) against Harang with runners on base this season, with three walks and 15 strikeouts. That included 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position before Stanton’s double.

“Everybody’s always said I’m kind of a stickler when runners do get on base,” Harang said. “I pitch a little tougher. I had other coaches tell me that before, that it’s like I get in a second gear when I have runners on. Obviously you get in a situation where you don’t want them to score. It maybe will get the team a little jacked up, get the guys jacked up when you can get out of your own jams.”

Harang struck out Stanton in each of his two earlier at-bats Wednesday, as the strapping Marlins right fielder continued to struggle against the Braves while wreaking havoc upon most National League teams.

Harang’s string of consecutive hitless batters reached 36 before Hechavarria bounced a single up the middle to start the third inning. It was only the 10th hit allowed in 28 innings by Harang, who pitched seven hitless innings in his last start Friday against the Mets before being replaced when his pitch count climbed to 121. After walking six against the Mets including four in the last two innings, Harang didn’t issue a walk Wednesday until the seventh inning.

After Hechavarria’s hit in the third inning, Harang struck out the next two batters and Laird threw out Hechavarria trying to steal second to end the inning. Harang struck out Christian Yelich and Stanton in a perfect fourth, and had recorded 14 outs in 14 batters before Derek Dietrich’s two-out ground ball single in the fifth.

In the sixth, Harang struck out the next two after Mathis’ bunt, for his 14th career double-digit strikeout game and first this season.

“I really can’t explain it,” Gonzalez said of Harang’s success, “other than he’s got an opportunity to pitch with a good team in a good organization and he sure is getting the most of it. He’s doing a terrific job.”