Although his outing against the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t go as well as planned last week, Aaron Harang has helped the Altanta Braves gain a share of the NL East lead despite an injury-ravaged rotation.
The right-hander will try to take advantage of another opportunity versus struggling Philadelphia on Sunday when the Braves go for their first four-game road sweep over the Phillies in almost 50 years.
With starters Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd expected to be lost for the season, Harang (6-6, 3.78 ERA) has filled in nicely to help surging Atlanta (43-38) draw even with Washington atop the division.
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The veteran has limited opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 12 of 16 starts, but he allowed a season high-tying nine runs – eight earned – and a season-high 13 hits over five innings in a 10-5 home loss to Philadelphia on June 18.
Harang bounced back Tuesday by giving up two runs over six innings in a 3-2 win at Houston. After issuing 16 walks over his previous four starts, he only walked a pair while picking up his first road victory since April 18.
"His command got better," manager Fredi Gonzalez told MLB’s official website. "You could see the veteran in him. He didn’t have his good stuff early on and he didn’t give in."
Harang had been 3-1 with a 3.25 ERA in his previous seven starts against the Phillies (36-45) before getting roughed up last week. Now he’ll try to lead the Braves to their first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since Sept. 24-27, 1964.
Ryan Howard was 3 for 3 with a double and two RBIs against Harang last week, and he’s hitting .375 with three homers in 24 career at-bats in the matchup. The first baseman is 1 for 7 in this series, dropping his average to .180 in his last 14 at home versus Atlanta.
The last-place Phillies are batting just .228 at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park following 10-3 and 5-1 losses in Saturday’s doubleheader. They’ve also averaged 2.7 runs and hit .212 with two homers while dropping seven of nine overall.
"We came in with some momentum, but the last three games it was lack of offense and not many good plays on defense," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We have to do things differently."
Sandberg’s club has been able to provide David Buchanan (4-3, 4.79) with 15 runs of support during a three-start winning streak. The rookie right-hander has posted a 3.06 ERA during the run, though he’s worked more than five innings only once.
Buchanan may have to find a way to contain Atlanta’s Justin Upton, who went 4 for 10 with four RBIs Saturday and is hitting .357 over a seven-game hitting streak.
Chris Johnson went 5 for 9 with three RBIs in the doubleheader for the Braves, who are 7-3 on a road trip that concludes Sunday. Second baseman Tommy La Stella went 3 for 8 with five RBIs to break out of a 2-for-30 slump.
Evan Gattis could miss his third straight contest after leaving Friday’s game with back spasms. The slugging catcher has gone 11 for 24 with five homers in his last six games against the Phillies.
Philadelphia’s Ben Revere, 9 for 19 in his last four games, is hitting .412 in eight career home meetings with the Braves. Marlon Byrd is 7 for 17 with a home run when facing Harang, while Chase Utley has gone 12 for 26 with a homer and six RBIs.