MINNEAPOLIS – If Lucas Harrell’s previous couple of starts lessened trade interest in the Braves’ journeyman pitcher, that interest level should be back on the upswing after his performance Tuesday night.
Harrell held the Minnesota Twins to four singles and three walks over six innings of a 2-0 win at Target Field, snapping the Braves’ five-game losing streak. It was their second win in eight games on a trip that ends Wednesday night with the finale of a two-game series.
“(Harrell) has been giving us about six innings every time and keeping us in games, and that’s what veteran guys are supposed to do,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who hit a leadoff double and scored in the third inning to push the lead to 2-0, after Adonis Garcia’s second-inning homer. “We pitched really well, played some good defense, made a lot of plays out there and got just enough hits.”
Two runs turned out to be more than enough for Harrell and four relievers including Jim Johnson, who pitched the ninth inning for his third save.
Ervin Santana, who pitched for the Braves in 2014, threw a seven-hit complete game for the Twins, with no walks and five strikeouts. But he came in with the second-worst run support among American League starters at 3.3 per nine innings pitched, and that figure got a little lower Tuesday as the Braves pitched their eighth shutout of the season.
Harrell (2-2) picked up his 20th career win in 55 decisions spread over six seasons, most of his 93 games and 66 starts coming with the Astros in 2011-2014 before pitching in Korea last season. He could be on the move again before the Monday trade deadline if a contender decides the 31-year-old could help them and makes a suitable offer.
“The opportunity that the Atlanta Braves have given me is, first off, I really appreciate it,” said Harrell, who was released by the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in May, signed with the Braves soon after, and was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on July 2. “And secondly, if the opportunity came I’d really love to stay here. I like Atlanta, the group of guys we have in here.
“We have some good guys and I think this team can build and have a winner, so I’d love to be here for that.”
It was just the seventh win in 59 games for the Braves when they scored three runs or fewer.
“(Harrell) was in trouble a lot, but he made the pitches, just like he’s been doing,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “We kept battling. He never gives in. We threw a runner out at third base — A.J. made a good throw, it was perfect ball to handle. So just a really solid outing by everybody.”
The Twins, winners of 12 of their past 19 games before Tuesday, had runners at first and second after a walk and hit to start the third inning. But after Harrell struck out Joe Mauer for the first out, Pierzynski threw out Byron Buxton, the big-time prospect from Baxley, Ga., trying to steal third base. Harrell struck out Miguel Sano to end the inning.
“Just a veteran that keeps pitching,” Snitker said of Harrel, who has been outstanding in three of his five starts. “He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t get caught up in the moment. He stays calm. Been there, done that a lot.
The Braves have won five in a row against the Twins including the last two games of a series at Target Field in 2010, the inaugural season of the downtown Minneapolis ballpark and their only previous visit to the stadium.
The two teams have the worst records in the majors, the Braves at 34-66 after Tuesday and the Twins at 37-62.
Harrell bounce back after consecutive losses in which he’d given up a combined 14 hits, 11 runs (nine earned) and six walks in 9 2/3 innings. This time he pitched like he did in his first two starts, when he posted a 1.32 ERA and .156 opponents’ average while allowing just seven hits and two runs in 13 2/3 innings of Braves wins against the Marlins and against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He had four strikeouts Tuesday and threw 60 strikes in 105 pitches.
It was a much-needed performance for the Braves, who had posted a 6.75 ERA while getting outscored 32-15 during a five-game losing streak that encompassed a series finale at Cincinnati and a four-game meltdown of a series at Denver’s Coors Field that ended Sunday.