Mike Minor’s struggles reflect Braves’ rotation

When the Pirates battered Mike Minor early last week, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said it was just one of those days.

“He’s allowed to have one of these outings,” he said after the Pirates banged out eight hits and seven runs and 6 1/3 innings against Minor 11 days ago.

But that was before Minor was introduced to the ERA-inflating, confidence-diminishing altitude of Coors Field.

Let’s just say he wasn’t enamored with his first impression of the Mile High City, where the Rockies sent a couple of his pitches a mile out of the stadium.

There was Michael Cuddyer’s first-inning grand slam, which was set up by two walks and a single. There were two more runs in the second, which left the Braves in a 6-0 hole, before Wilin Rosario took Minor deep with a two-run blast.

He was pulled with the Braves facing an 8-3 deficit, but his teammates saved Minor from another loss by rallying for a 13-9 win on May 5.

It’s possible Minor’s past two starts are mere anomalies, just a couple of dips in a long season that’s filled with peaks and slumps. But the Braves have to be concerned about the rotation’s only left-hander, whose ERA is 11.91 in his past two starts.

Minor’s struggles are somewhat indicative of the problems faced by the rotation, though. The Braves’ starters are just 11-12 and have a combined for a 4.44 ERA, which is 14th in the 16-team NL.

They’ve already watched ace Tim Hudson miss the first month of the season. They’ve seen Jair Jurrjens, a 2011 all-star, pitch poorly and before being demoted to Triple-AAA Gwinnett. They’ve hung in there with Tommy Hanson’s control issues and been patient with rookie Randall Delgado’s growing pains.

Only Brandon Beachy continues to exceed expectations with his 3-1 record and 1.62 ERA.

Hanson, Delgado and Hudson each pitched well in three games against the Cubs earlier this week, showing some of the potential that’s in this starting staff.

Here is how they did from that series:

• Hanson allowed two runs in six innings
• Delgado allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings
• Hudson allowed one run in seven innings

So now it’s Minor’s turn to see if he can return to the form he showed during a three-game stretch last month and continue the team’s trend of strong starts.

He’s scheduled to take his turn at St. Louis tonight. In a strange twist of scheduling, it will be Minor’s fifth start on the road, compared to two at home.

Minor has pitched better in Atlanta in his brief time with the Braves, but his poor outing against the Pirates was at Turner Field. So he can’t blame unfamiliar surroundings for that debacle.

And besides, two of his best starts came at Arizona and Los Angeles, during a three-game stretch last month in which he went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA.

Minor dominated the Brewers, allowing only two hits and an unearned run on April 14. He established his career high with 7 1/3 innings in that win, a personal mark that didn’t last long.

Five days later, Minor dominated the Diamondbacks for eight innings. He struck out nine and allowed only five hits and one earned run for his second straight victory.

Minor came back with another strong showing at Dodger Stadium, giving up three runs in six innings, but the Braves couldn’t break a 3-3 tie until the ninth, leaving Minor with no decision.

Minor seemed to be on the verge of becoming the Braves’ most consistent pitcher. He was throwing the best he had ever pitched in the majors, varying speeds and mixing in breaking pitches. He was showing why the Braves made him the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft out of Vanderbilt.

Gonzalez said: “He’s growing up right in front of our eyes.”

That success has taken a break, though.

His past two starts have been unforgettable for all the wrong reasons: 15 runs on 18 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He’s given up seven walks and four home runs and his ERA has soared to 5.97.

Minor has never faced the Cardinals, and this year’s team leads the NL in hitting at .287 and in scoring with 174 runs — 5.6 a game –despite losing Albert Pujols, who signed with the Angels over the winter.

The Braves need Minor to snap out of his funk. Tonight would be a great time.