ATLANTA — Taking three cuts after the Braves’ 8-3 win over the Twins at Turner Field on Wednesday.
1. No McCann? No J. Upton? No Simmons? No problem
Following Tuesday night’s extra-innings, rain-delayed win, manager Fredi Gonzalez sat some of the Braves starters for the noon start, including Brain McCann, Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons.
But the players that stepped into their spots — most notably and triumphantly Evan Gattis — did some of the biggest damage as Atlanta won its sixth straight.
One night after a two-out, pinch-hit home run that sent the game to extra innings, Gattis, who was starting in McCann’s place, smacked his first career grand slam as he muscled a 92-mph cutter from Vance Worley on a 3-0 count just over the 330-foot mark on the right-field fence. As he was rounding the bases, the theme from “The Natural” played.
“That’s the second time this year I’ve seen a 3-0 grand slam the opposite way for a right-handed hitter, (Miguel) Cabrera in Detroit and Evan here,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’re not making a comparison by any means, but that’s the sign of a good hitter when you get that ball to travel on a 3-0 pitch and have enough juice to hit it (to) the opposite field.”
Ramiro Pena, manning Simmons’ spot at short stop, homered in the second, his second of the year, doubling his career output and went 2-for-4 overall. Then there was Jordan Schafer, in left field with Upton on the bench, going 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored.
Overall, the trio finished 4-for-9 with two homers and accounted for five of the eight runs driven in.
The slam was Gattis’ 10th HR of the season, the first time he had gone deep in back-to-back games since April 9 and 10 vs. the Marlins and the only one he’s sent to right field — and Gattis said he wasn’t even sure it was going out.
“At first I hit it and I was like ‘Oh, yeah, it’s gone,'” he said. “Then it was like ‘Maybe,” and then …” he shrugged his shoulders. “I thought I got enough of it and after that it went out … it counts.”
2. Maholm gave the bullpen just what it needed: a breather
An already hampered set of relievers, one that’s missing Eric O’Flaherty, Johnny Venters and Jordan Walden was taxed in Tuesday’s win with five of the six available arms playing, including closer Craig Kimbrel.
So it was all the more important that Paul Maholm, with a big lead, give that group some breathing room and he delivered, going 7 1/3 innings before giving way to rookie Cory Rasmus.
“We played a lot of innings last night and we’ve been using our bullpen for the last couple of nights, so that was the thought, run him back out there and maybe get another inning, through the eighth so Cory (would) only have to pick up one,” Gonzalez said.
Maholm (6-4 with a 3.38 ERA), allowed seven hits, an unearned run — which came off Chris Johnson’s sixth-inning error — and struck out four and walked one over 112 pitches.
Rasmus — the brother of Blue Jays outfielder Colby — was making his major league debut and made things interesting, giving up two ninth-inning solo home runs to Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia before striking out Josh Willingham to end the game.
With a day off before the Braves open their three-game weekend series with the Mets and play 20 consecutive days stretching from May 24-June 12, that slimmed-down group is going to need all the deep outings it can get.
“I wanted to go as deep as I possibly could and only give them one inning if possible,” Maholm said. “Broken bat singles kind of ending it for me, but I’m going to do anything I can to take care of the bullpen.”
3. B.J. is starting to feel it
Tuesday night’s two-hit performance did come with the disclaimer that B.J. Upton was showing signs of turning things around against a Twins team he’s always had success against. But he added to that strong run, hitting his fourth homer of the season in the fourth inning.
“It’s starting to get better,” Upton said. “The last three or four days I’m getting closer to where I want to be. It’s definitely a lot of hard work and I’ll continue working but things are starting to go in the right direction. Hopefully I’ll just keep it going.”
Gonzalez said the staff has been tinkering with Upton’s stance, focusing on his leg kick and trying to get his foot down quicker to get him into position to hit. It seems to be paying of as Upton now has hits in consecutive games for the fourth time.
“I’m just doing some fine-tuning and going back to what got me here,” Upton said. “It’s been a work in progress.”
Upton seems to have found a comfort zone hitting eighth in the lineup, where he’s now 4-for-17 (.235) in five games.
Added Gonzalez: “B.J., you see those at-bats getting better and better and those swings are getting better and (hitting coach Greg Walker) and (assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher) are working hard with him and B.J.’s working. You’ve got to give him some credit too. He’s not getting frustrated.”