Heyward homers twice; Braves complete sweep in Miami

MIAMI — Martin Prado makes his offseason home in Miami, and Thursday night he and Jason Heyward helped the Braves complete an entirely satisfying visit to the city.

Prado’s two-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Braves their first lead of the night, then they poured it on with six runs in the homer-fueled final three innings of an 8-2 win, completing a three-game sweep against Miami in their first visit to new Marlins Park.

Heyward added a pair of long home runs in the seventh and ninth innings, and Michael Bourn hit a three-run homer in the ninth for the Braves, who moved ahead of Miami into second place in the National League East.

“Nice to get a win tonight and not just settle for winning the series," Heyward said. "Keep playing good baseball, keep fighting."

Heyward's eighth and ninth home runs sailed an estimated 423 feet and 425 feet to center field for his second career multi-homer game, and Bourn had three hits and raised his homer total to a career-high six with 105 games still to be played.

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Mike Minor (3-4) pitched out of jams for most of five innings for the Braves, who’ve won four in a row and six out of seven since snapping an eight-game losing streak.

Braves pitchers have a 2.32 ERA during the 6-1 stretch, after a 5.66 ERA in the eight-game skid.

“They were hot, the hottest team in baseball in May," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said of the Marlins, who were tied with Washington for first place before getting swept by Atlanta. "We hit a skid, but we’re starting to get back in the groove. We got great starts out of our pitchers.

"Mikey Minor, he only pitched five innings but he pitched awesome. He was searching for it early, then settled in after that.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "We were able to add on runs. And one of the things you want to be able to do defensively is when your team scores, shut the other team down."

The Braves are only a game behind Washington after the Nationals lost 3-1 to the New York Mets, and returned from a 4-1 trip to play a nine-game interleague homestand that starts Friday against Toronto.

The Braves have the NL's best road record (20-14, .588) and lead the majors in road wins, and showed in the past week that they can win without Chipper Jones, who's been on the 15-day disabled list.

“Yeah, man, it’s tough," said Heyward, whose other multi-homer game was at Chicago's Wrigley Field on Aug. 22, 2010. "But we know we’ve got to show up every day and go out there with what we’ve got. We’re confident. You’ve got to be confident going out on the field. We’re just trying to have some fun and take advantage of situations, give ourselves a chance to win every game.”

It was hot and terribly humid outside, but cool and comfy in the retractable-roof dome, where the Braves had a lot better experience than in their last trip to Miami. That was when they lost two of three in a late-September series, part of their 10-20 fall from wild-card grace to non-playoff participants.

That was all forgotten this week as Braves pitchers throttled the Marlins’ slugging duo of Giancarlo Stanton and Hanley Ramirez — until Stanton’s solo homer in the eighth inning Thursday — and Braves hitters delivered plenty of timely hits, particularly with two outs.

Prado’s homer off left-handed starter Mark Buehrle turned a deficit into a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning and put Minor in position for the win. It followed Bourn’s two-out single.

The Braves’ recent two-out proficiency continued in the seventh when Heyward homered to straightaway center off right-hander Steve Cishek.

The Braves added a run in the eighth, after rookie Andrelton Simmons led off with a walk and Bourn and Prado hit consecutive one-out singles, with Prado’s hit pushing the lead to 4-1.

Prado has hit .383 in his past 27 games with 14 extra-base hits and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) above 1.000. The Marlins are probably sick of seeing him — he’s hit .372 with five homers and 24 RBIs in his past 37 games against them.

Simmons, finishing up a strong first week in the majors, had two hits and a walk, but he's known more for his glove and he showed why on Thursday. The rookie shortstop made the defensive play of the night when he starting an inning-ending double play in the seventh, making a spectacular stop and threw to second base from the seat of his pants to help reliever Jonny Venters preserve the 2-1 lead.

“For me the whole game was the seventh inning, when Simmons turns the double play on Hanley and gets Jonny out of that inning," Gonzalez said. "It kind of just re-energized the team. All of a sudden Heyward had two home runs and then Michael Bourn was a big shot there in the ninth inning..."

Uggla was on the receiving end of the strong-armed rookie's throw to second base to start the play.

"The fact that he even got to it and threw me a strike with Hanley running," Uggla said, shaking his head. "That was a huge double play.”

The Marlins got a leadoff homer from Stanton in the eighth off reliever Eric O’Flaherty, who gave up a double to the next batter, Justin Ruggiano, before  getting through the inning without further damage.

Minor, pitching for the first time since May 26, came through with five effective if not particularly efficient innings, allowing four hits, one run and five walks with four strikeouts. The lefty threw 55 strikes in 103 pitches. He had a 26-pitch first inning in which he walked two and struck out Logan Morrison with the bases loaded to escape unscathed.

"I was just coming across my body a little more than usual" in the first inning, Minor said. "They were only missing by about six inches. I knew it was close and I just needed to make a small adjustment. So I didn’t really take myself out of the ballgame in that first inning, even though it looked pretty bad I still felt like I could battle through that.”

"It was a tough first inning. I threw a lot of pitches, which caused me to only go five innings. But I felt like I battled the whole game and they have a great lineup. A lot of those hitters are hot right now.”

Minor had been 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA and .326 opponents’ average in his previous six starts, with 12 homers allowed in 31 2/3 innings. He was also 0-1 with a 7.65 ERA in four starts against the Marlins before Thursday.

“I thought he was right around the plate [early]," Gonzalez said. "Mac [catcher Brian McCann] was saying he was just missing some pitches, especially inside on some of the right-handers. But he didn’t buckle. So there’s progress there.

"He gave us five innings. That’s all he had right now, but there were a couple of innings there where they could have put up a big number against him, and he didn’t let them.”

He gave up a leadoff homer to Jose Reyes in the fifth inning — Reyes’ first homer of the season in his 222nd at-bat — and allowed a pair of doubles, but Minor also made plenty of big pitches when he needed to.

After the Reyes homer and a walking Ramirez with one out in the fifth, two batters later he walked Ramirez and up came Stanton and potential danger. Minor struck him out and got out of the inning with the Braves trailing 1-0.

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