ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves improved to 16-7 on the season Saturday as three home runs and a strong pitching performance by David Hale paced the team to a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Freddie Freeman homered in the first, and Justin Upton and Evan Gatits went back-to-back in the third to give Atlanta all the runs it needed. Hale pitched eight innings and only gave up one run on two hits, both in the first inning. Craig Kimbrel secured the win with his eighth save of the season.
Here are six things we learned tonight about the Braves.
Prior to the start of Saturday’s major league action, left fielder Justin Upton and first baseman Freddie Freeman were launching home runs at a frenetic pace.
Upton, who was ranked 12th in Major League Baseball and fifth in the National League, was hitting a home run per every 13.7 at-bats. Freeman was ranked 13th in in the league and sixth in the NL with one home run in every 14.2 at-bats.
Freeman, who went 1-for-4 with a home run in the first inning (he was also robbed by Ryan Ludwick of his second home run of the game in the third inning), watched his home run to at-bat ratio fall to 14.7:1. Upton improved his HR/AB ratio. His third-inning blast brought his ratio up to 12:1 after going 3-for-3. Freeman is now ranked in a tie for 15th in the league (tied for eighth in the NL), while Upton is fifth (second in the NL).
Both are well ahead of their career averages. Upton’s hit a home run for every 23.27 at-bats in his eight major-league seasons, while Freeman’s blasted a homer for every 23.97 at-bats in five big-league seasons.
Sitting ‘em Down
Braves starting pitcher David Hale got off to a rocky start. After recording two quick outs, he gave up a single to Brandon Phillips, walked Jay Bruce and gave up an RBI double to Ludwick. He got out of the first with a Brayan Pena ground out.
Center fielder B.J. Upton’s single, followed by Freeman’s two-run dinger, put the Braves up 2-1. Hale never looked back. In fact, he cruised from then on.
“My offspeed [pitches] felt really good today, but the command of my pitches was the main thing,” Wood said about what was working the best for him against the Reds. “I think I had command of my pitches better than I [ever] have.”
From Pena’s ground out in the first, Hale faced the minimum of 22 Reds batters all the way through the eight inning. A fourth-inning walk surrendered to Bruce was the only blemish keeping his final seven innings from being perfect. Hale earned his first win of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.31.
Mike Minor Almost Ready to Return
Mike Minor pitched in his fifth rehab outing on Friday and went seven innings. He gave up five runs on 10 hits and struck out two batters while walking none. Through his five appearances, Minor is 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA.
Fredi Gonzalez got a report that said Minor was healthy, and now the Braves have to determine when to introduce Minor into the rotation. Minor will throw a side session on Sunday before the team figures out the logistics.
“We won’t disrupt anybody,” said Gonzalez. “Looking at a schedule if we plug him in before [Aaron] Harang or before [Ervin] Santana, then somebody else gets seven days of rest. We’ll see where we plug him in.”
Six days rest is the most Gonzalez said he’d want to give any of his starters.
The team still hasn’t determined who will be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett when Minor joins the rotation. Gonzalez has considered multiple scenarios without making up his mind, and he’s not discussed any scenario with anyone currently in the rotation.
Ernesto Mejia to Japan
The Braves announced Saturday before batting practice that minor league first baseman Ernesto Mejia had been granted his release from the 40-man roster for the purpose of playing in the Japanese Pacific League. The Braves and the Seibu Lions reached an agreement for Mejia’s services and he will report to Japan next week.
Because Mejia was blocked at first base by Freeman, and didn’t play anywhere else on the diamond, his release was easier for the organization to handle.
In a pinch, Gonzalez said Chris Johnson could play first for a few games if needed. In Gwinnett, Joey Terdoslavich has begun playing first base and will get most of the reps there as he masters the position.
“For anything long term,” said Gonzalez, “we’d bring Terdoslavich up.”
Milestone 1,000 for B.J. Upton
B.J. Upton’s single in the first inning was his career 1,000th hit. It wasn’t exactly how he imagined it.
“J-Hey told me it was probably going to be a bloop because of those two [hard-hit] balls I hit yesterday,” said Upton. ”It was very similar to a bloop, but I’ll take it. I’ll take the 1,000th.”
Upton hit a bouncing ball up the middle toward Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake, whose momentum had carried him off the mound away from the ball. Leake got part of his glove on the ball, but it ricocheted into no-man’s land on the infield.
Saturday was Day 2 of Upton’s experiment of wearing prescription glasses to enhance his vision. He went 1-for-4 each game, and said the glasses are having a positive effect.
"I'm seeing the ball a little better,” said Upton. “Actually, a lot better."
The Braves moved to 16-7 with Saturday’s win over the Reds, and clinched another series win.
Atlanta has now won seven of its eight series played, it’s sole loss was at home to the New York Mets when they took two of three from the Braves between April 8-10.
To put into perspective just how dominant the Braves have been this season, their 16 wins are second in the league to the Milwaukee Brewers, whom the Braves beat 2-1 in the series to open the season. Their seven series’ wins is equal to the number of games the Chicago Cubs have won all season, and is one fewer than the Houston Astros.