Minor rocked, but Braves roll to 13-10 win at Coors

DENVER — The Braves had seven runs and seven hits including an Andrelton Simmons grand slam before they made their second out Tuesday night. But yet nearly four hours later, Craig Kimbrel was closing the game in a save situation.

It was that kind of night at Coors Field, like a game straight out of the late-1990s at the notorious hitters’ haven.

Braves starter Mike Minor endured another mile-high nightmare but the Braves won 13-10 to clinch at least a split of the four-game series with two games to go. Kimbrel restored order with a display as overpowering as any he’s had this season, strriking out the side for his 18th save.

“Kimbrel was terrific, let’s start with that,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, smiling as he put off discussion of the uglier aspects of a ragged win. “We’ve all experienced these games (at Coors). You’re never out of it. We go out and score seven in the first inning and we need a shutdown and we didn’t get it – I don’t think Mike got a shutdown inning in his whole outing. It’s just a tough outing (for him). But we had a lot of good stuff happen.”

Minor gave up 11 hits and eight runs and left without recording an out in the fifth, matching the career-high eight runs he allowed in a 2012 start at Coors.

Braves left fielder Justin Upton left the game with a strained left hamstring in the first inning and was listed as day-to-day.

But as Gonzalez said, there was good to go with the bad and the ugly. The Braves scored more runs in the first inning than they scored in any entire game during a 25-game stretch from April 20 to May 18, and Freddie Freeman and surging Evan Gattis added solo homers in the fourth inning when the Braves reached double-digit runs for just the second time all season, taking a 10-5 lead.

But the way balls were flying and several pitchers were struggling with the strike zone, it seemed no lead would be large enough for breathing easy. Freeman was asked if such a game was fun for the hitters, at least.

“When we’re in the dugout it’s fun,” he said, “but when we’re on the field and they’re scoring the same amount of runs that we are, it’s not that fun.”

Even after the Braves pushed the lead to 13-8 in the sixth, the Rockies scored a run in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out in the eighth on three walks by reliever Jordan Walden in his first game back from the disabled list. Walden walked all but one of the four batters he faced and also had a wild pitch.

Rookie Shae Simmons entered and limited the damage to a Justin Morneau sacrifice fly that cut the lead to 13-10 before striking out Josh Rutledge to get out of the inning.

Until that point it was a night out of the late ‘90s at Coors Field, with starting pitchers Minor and Juan Nicasio getting pounded and run through a spin cycle a few times apiece while giving up a combined 22 hits, 18 runs and four homers.

The Rockies scored three runs in the first inning, two in the third, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth as Minor was unable to get into any rhythm despite the huge run support.

“I felt good,” Minor said. “I just couldn’t make quality pitches. They have a good lineup, and they made me pay.”

Gattis was 3-for-4 with a walk, four runs and two RBIs, and the catcher has hit .395 (17-for-43) with five homers and 13 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak. Previously slumping Chris Johnson has consecutive three-hit games to raise his career average to .459 (17-for-37) in 10 games at Coors Field.

Freeman has 11 homers and 26 RBIs in 27 games against the Rockies including five homers in 12 games at Coors Field.

Minor, who left after giving up a triple and an RBI single to start the fifth inning, was charged with 11 hits, eight runs and three walks. David Hale (2-0) replaced him and got the win after giving up two hits and one run in 2 1/3 innings. Hale also got his first major league hit.

“Not bad,” Hale said of his memorable night. “I’ll take it.”

Minor has allowed eight runs twice in 93 career starts, both times at Coors Field. He got no decision and remains 1-0 despite an 11.40 ERA in three starts at the downtown Denver ballpark, where he has given up 26 hits and 19 runs in 15 innings.

“I just think I wasn’t making quality pitches early on,” Minor said. “Later on I felt like I was making better pitches but just couldn’t get out of jams. I’d get one or two outs and then give up a base hit, then a triple or a double. Guys were scoring all night.”

The left-hander allowed 10 hits, eight runs and two homers and four walks in five innings of his first start at Coors on May 5, 2012, which the Braves also won (he got no decision). He’s been whacked for double-digit hits totals just three times in his career — twice at Coors and last month against the Cardinals.

Minor had a 1.87 ERA in five starts since giving up 11 hits and six runs in 4 1/3 innings of that May 7 loss to the Cardinals in his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list recovering from shoulder tendinitis. He allowed more runs in four innings Tuesday than he had in 33 2/3 innings combined over his past five starts (seven).

“I’ve seen plenty of games like this before,” he said, “and to be honest, the positive is I walk out of here feeling good for my team because we got a win. Me and their guy (Nicasio) weren’t very good tonight. And it’s tough to pitch here, and those guys (Rockies) are raking pretty much at home. They hit really well here. So I walk out of here feeling pretty good just because we got a win, and I know I can bounce back.”

The first eight batters produced seven first-inning hits for the Braves, and the only one who didn’t reach base in that stretch was Freeman, who had an RBI groundout.

Jason Heyward started game with a double and B.J. Upton followed with a triple off the right-field wall. One out later, Justin Upton lined a single off Nicasio’s glove and apparently hurt his leg running to first on the play. He ran the bases but was replaced by Jordan Schafer in the bottom of the first.

Upton said he felt some discomfort halfway up the baseline. When he moved gingerly coming off the field, Gonzalez and the team trainer, Jeff Porter, asked him how he felt. Gonzalez decided not to risk having him play through it.

“I think I could have managed it throughout the game,” said Upton, who thinks he’ll be back in the lineup within a day or two. “I don’t know how it’s going to feel tomorrow, but I’m optimistic that if it’s not anything too serious … we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Johnson followed with single to load the bases before Tommy La Stella singled in a run. The bases were still loaded, but not for long: Simmons hit the first grand slam of his career to give the Braves a 7-0 lead.

Dan Uggla’s April 14 grand slam at Philadelphia was the only other slam this season for the Braves.

Nicasio gave up 11 hits and 10 runs in just 3 2/3 innings. He’s the same pitcher who held the Braves to two hits and four walks in six scoreless innings on May 24 in a 3-1 Rockies win at Turner Field. Minor also started that game.

The Braves sent 10 batters to the plate in the first and the Rockies batted around in their half of the inning before Minor struck out Nicasio with the bases loaded. The first inning lasted almost 45 minutes and 67 pitches, only 35 of which were strikes.