Mike Minor had allowed more than three runs just once since the end of June, and the Braves hoped for another strong outing from their now-steadiest starter Sunday, so they could finish a disappointing trip on a good note.
They didn’t get it.
Minor was charged with six runs and two homers in 6-2/3 innings of an 8-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday night at Comerica Park, where the Braves were swept for the first time this season and suffered their eighth loss in 11 games since a 12-1 start.
The left-hander walked the No. 8 hitter and gave up a three-run homer in the third inning, and gave up a two-out homer by Omar Infante and a walk before exiting in the seventh, two batters before Miguel Cabrera’s three-run homer off reliever Cory Gearrin.
“That’s what hurt me a lot of times last year, the walks and the home runs,” said Minor (3-2). “And it happened again tonight.”
Atlanta hitters struck out 11 times Sunday to give them 39 strikeouts in the three-game series and 96 strikeouts in the last nine games of the 10-game trip, including seven losses. The 3-7 road grind began with three losses in four games at Pittsburgh and ended with four consecutive losses at Colorado and Detroit.
“I think over the course of 162 games and however many weeks in the season, you’re going to go through a road trip like this,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.”And now we’ve got to get ready to go home, be home for seven days, hopefully get good weather and go out and get some work done and get it going again.”
After playing their 16th road game in an 18-game stretch, the Braves flew back to Atlanta late Sunday for a seven-game homestand that starts Monday against Washington. The Nationals are 2-1/2 games behind the first-place Braves in the National League East and the Braves swept them in Washington April 12-14.
“This was a tough road trip,” the Braves’ Dan Uggla said. “You could tell it wore on us. The weather, the travel, the doubleheader, the days off, everything kind of caught up to us here. Not taking anything away from them (Tigers). They swung the bats great and got great pitching all three days.
“Like I said, we’re happy to be going home and put this one behind us, get started, get back to work tomorrow.”
Any notion of a late-innings Braves rally ended with a four-run seventh inning for the Tigers, who blew open what had been a one-run game and rolled to a three-game sweep.
The homers by ex-Brave Infante and Cabrera gave the Tigers a commanding 8-3 margin, to the delight of most in an announced crowd of 33,469 that withstood a steady rain and temperatures in the low 50s.
Infante’s homer was his second of the season, both coming this weekend against the team that traded him to Miami in the deal for Uggla following the 2010 season. After going 2-for-29 in his first seven games against the Braves after the trade, Infante has hit .343 with seven extra-base hits (three homers) in his past 16 games against them.
Minor yielded a three-run homer to Austin Jackson in the third inning to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead, before the Braves answered with three in the fourth without benefit of a homer, a rarity for a team that’s relied heavily on longballs.
Blowing a lead after the Braves overcame a three-run deficit was the grating aspect for Minor, that and giving up two walks that came back to haunt him. The Braves got three in the fourth against Doug Fister (4-0) on three hits including Chris Johnson’s RBI double, and a hit-by-pitch.
“I left some balls over the middle of the plate,” Minor said, “but even the balls that I felt like I executed, they still had good swings on them and fouled them off, or just missed them…. I thought (Braves) hitters did a good job with Fister tonight. He was throwing the ball well and we still managed to put some runs on the board and quite a few hits.
“It was pretty much left up to me to hold them, and I didn’t.”
Gearrin entered in the seventh after Minor gave up the homer to Infante and walked the next batter, leadoff man Austin Jackson. Gearrin faced two batters, giving up a single to Torii Hunter before Cabrera drove a 3-0 pitch the other way to the right-field seats.
“I fell behind 3-0 and tried to get a strike through, and he hit it,” said Gearrin, whose .105 opponents’ average with runners on base had been fourth-best in the NL. “The guy’s a great hitter. You kind of just have to tip your hat right there. I wanted to be aggressive, wanted to come at him and not give up the (at-bat), and he did what he was up there to do.”
The six runs charged to Minor were his most in nearly 12 months, since allowing six in 4-2/3 innings against Miami on May 16.
After posting a 6.20 ERA and .271 opponents’ average in his first 15 starts last season, Minor was 10-5 with a 2.12 ERA and .199 opponents’ average in his past 19 starts before Sunday, including 7-1 with a 1.29 ERA in his last nine.
But on Sunday he made the kind of mistakes that plagued him in the first half last season, such as walking Pena.
“That’s what hurt me a lot of times last year, the walks and the home runs,” Minor said. “And it happened again tonight.”
Most of what could go wrong with the Braves did on the long trip, and Minor wasn’t immune. The Braves had a 5.53 ERA on the 10-game trip and gave up six or more earned runs in half of the games including each of the last four.
Braves pitchers had led the majors in ERA by a considerable margin when the trip began, but before Sunday they had slipped to second in the NL and their starters had slipped to sixth. Gonzalez credited Detroit hitters for the damage done this weekend to the staff ERA.
“That’s a pretty good lineup,” he said. “We gave them some outs, we gave them some opportunities to score, and they took advantage. Guy that hits third for them (Cabrera) won the Triple Crown, and he don’t miss those opportunities. You bring in Gearrin to face Hunter and Cabrera, and Miggy knows exactly what he wants to do with the plan there, and he’s not going to give in. He’s going to hit the right field, and he hits the ball over the right-field fence like a left-handed pull hitter.”
The Braves could only watch as Cabrera’s big fly sailed through the rain and into the bleachers, one final jolt to the misery index on their long trip.
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