Pitcher David Hale (one run allowed, four strikeouts over eight innings) and catcher Evan Gattis (solo homer) were instrumental in helping the first-place Braves (16-7) secure their third straight win.
Everybody knows that Mike Minor (shoulder) is just days away from returning to Atlanta’s active roster, after completing five rehab starts in the minors. But no one can predict — with great certainty, at least — who’ll get bumped from the starters’ lot, once Minor hits the majors.
Hale is, by all accounts, one of the possible bumpees, even though he has surrendered just seven earned runs in six career MLB starts. That includes his Saturday gem, allowing just one run and two hits over eight scintillating innings … while also facing the minimum number of batters for Innings 2-8 (21, to be exact).
Things were a little rocky in the opening stanza, giving up an RBI double to Ryan Ludwick. But after that, Hale mowed down the Reds with cool precision, striking out four hitters and forcing a bevy of groundouts and lazy flyouts in the final seven innings (15, to be exact).
All this begs the out-of-the-box question: Would it be so wrong for the Braves to ponder the possibility of implementing a six-man rotation for the time being? Or are pitchers (and managers) such creatures of habit … that opting for an unconventional, but perhaps necessary strategy doesn’t even warrant a genuine response?
Heresy, you say?
In the postgame media scrum, Hale admitted to setting a pregame goal of stringing together back-to-back solid outings. He also marveled over the success with off-speed deliveries against the Reds.
Having "command of my pitches was the big thing," said Hale, a Princeton alum who has just 34.1 MLB innings under his belt. He later added, "It’s always nice to throw from a wind-up all the time. That really helps a lot."
When broached about the possibility of getting bumped from the rotation — despite his success in the bigs — Hale recognized it as a concern, but didn’t want it to "get too deep" into his mind.
"It’s been tough. But everyone (in the rotation) wants to go out there and compete against each other, in a friendly way." He then added: "My goal is to go out there and do the best I can … so we’ll see what happens."
For those scoring at home, the Braves starters have a seasonal ERA of 1.66 — roughly 70 points better than MLB’s second-ranked staff (Cardinals).
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was effusive in praising Hale, along with the Braves defenders, in his own media scrum.
"You gotta win … It always boils down to your pitching. Everybody always talks about your runs (scored) or your home runs and keeping the line moving, but it always boils down to how you pitch and how you catch the ball," Gonzalez said.
At the conclusion of Gonzalez’s session, MLB.com reporter Mark Bowman asked if Hale’s super Saturday "complicates" the process of bumping a current pitcher from the rotation — making room for Minor.
Gonzalez displayed a wide grin when informing the media of a 6:30 a.m. press conference on Sunday, a joking pronouncement that had people laughing out the door. But it doesn’t take away the breadth of the Braves’ dilemma. This decision requires short- and long-term consideration.
For no matter who gets the boot — whether it’s Hale (1-0, 2.31 ERA) or Alex Wood (2-3, 1.54 ERA) or Aaron Harang (3-1, 0.85 ERA) — someone’s going to feel jilted by the result.
Striding to the plate in the third inning, with one homer already on his Saturday tally, Freddie Freeman crushed a Mike Leake pitch to left field — a supposed moon shot that had the makings of a home run.
But Ryan Ludwick leapt high and robbed Freeman of his second blast of the night.
Unbeknownst to anyone in the ballpark, Ludwick’s heroic grab also curtailed the Braves’ chances of registering back-to-back-to-back homers — an actual occurrence from April 14, when Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons went yard on three consecutive at-bats against the Phillies.
Immediately after Freeman’s near-miss, Justin Upton and Gattis belted solo homers, a pair of runs that essentially clinched the Braves’ third straight victory (16-7 overall).
"When he’s swinging the bat good, you can’t throw it anywhere near the plate," said Gonzalez of Freeman (one hit, one run, two RBI vs. Cincy), while likening him to Reds All-Star Joey Votto.
Upton reached a significant threshold on Saturday, notching the 1,000th hit of his 10-year MLB career.
Upton, whose batting average has improved 92 points since April 6, collected the base hit in the first inning — an up-the-middle ball that deflected off Mike Leake’s glove, before eluding the other Cincy defenders.
The 29-year-old Upton was a teenager upon earning his first major league hit on Aug. 2, 2004 — which also served as the kid’s MLB debut.
"(You’ve) got to tip your hat to that. Not too many people who have been in the league a long time have (reached 1,000 hits). So, good for him and good for him doing it at home," said Gonzalez.
The landmark hit coincides with Upton’s Friday decision to wear glasses for the first time in the bigs. A day later, Upton also tallied the 579th run of his career, scoring on Freeman’s two-run homer in the 1st.