Minor’s improvement showing in recent starts

ATLANTA – Mike Minor had a simple explanation why the Colorado Rockies couldn’t touch his pitches.

“I threw a lot of crap in there early,” he said. “I don’t think they knew what was coming.”

If confusion was his best ally, he should employ it more often. Minor struggled with his control, as has often been the case this year, but he didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning on Wednesday night, leading the Braves to 1-0 victory over the Rockies.

It was not only one of the top performances of his short career, it was another step in Minor’s yearlong maturation process. It showed how far he’s progressed since his rough stretches earlier this season, when hits and walks would be magnified by more mistakes.

“He’s turned the page. He’s become a completely different pitcher,” closer Craig Kimbrel said. “He’s attacking guys, he’s going right at them. He doesn’t seem as timid out there on the mound. It seems like he’s more in control when he’s out there, and you’ve seen it with his outings. He’s really become a better pitcher.”

Minor slowly and gradually has become one of the Braves’ most reliable starters. 

Kris Medlen has made a sudden impact on the rotation, but Minor’s has been a steady climb since since May, when a string of terrible outings left him battling Randall Delgado for a spot in the rotation – and on the team.

A trip to Triple-A Gwinnett seemed to be in his future.

But Minor has been remarkably consistent and efficient the past two months, allowing 20 earned runs in his past 69.2 innings for a 2.58 ERA since July 1. He hasn’t given up more than four earned runs in a start since May 16, and he posted three starts in the past two months where he allowed a combined three runs in 21 innings. That’s lowered his season’s ERA from a high of 7.09 in May to its current 4.58.

Minor wasn’t dominant against the Rockies, walking four, but a ball didn’t fall for a hit until Jordan Pacheco led off the seventh with a single.

“I didn’t even feel like I was throwing that great,” Minor said. “Then I looked back. I actually didn’t know until the fifth. I looked back and saw no hits. Because of a couple of walks, a couple of hard hits, I didn’t really feel like I was throwing that great.”

He said he was wildly effective throughout, walking Carlos Gonzalez and Pacheco with two outs in the first, but they were left stranded. Minor also walked Dexter Fowler in the sixth and Andrew Brown in the seventh, but they also didn’t hurt.

The four walks were the most by Minor in a game since June 30. It’s an area where he’s shown drastic improvement. 

After walking 38 batters in his first 85.2 innings this season, he’s allowed only 13 in his past 69.2. Not coincidentally, that’s when his ERA started to plummet.

“Kind of just dodged them, I guess,” Minor said. “To me it wasn’t one of my best starts, but like you said, on paper it looks good. I just got lucky enough. They had a couple of guys on and I got out of it again. My walks didn’t hurt me this time. I didn’t give up a home run. That’s always good. I just kind of dodged them.”

Minor had shown flashes of brilliance before, including a five-hit, eight-strikeout victory over Toronto on June 20, 2011, going 5-0 in a seven-start stretch last year and even throwing consecutive strong starts this past April.

But the past two months have shown that Minor could be finally securing his spot in the Braves’ rotation for the next few years. His ERA during that time is a better indicator of his success than his 4-4 record (8-10 overall in 2012) because his teammates have scored few runs to support his pitching.

But on Wednesday, one was enough.

“You can always say you’ve learned everything and you’ve learned a lot this year and next year is going to be better,” Minor said. “Every year is experience. Guys go through ups and downs, and it’s the way you handle it and the way you bounce back.”