Braves starter tosses third straight strong outing; infielder hits decisive two-run single
By Paul Casella
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves right-hander Shelby Miller turned in a third consecutive impressive outing on Sunday, and after a Tigers split squad -- featuring the debut of slugger Victor Martinez -- rallied late to tie, Pedro Ciriaco's two-run single off Josh Zeid in the eighth lifted Atlanta to a 5-3 victory.
Miller limited the Tigers to just one run on four hits, while also notching four strikeouts over a spring-high five innings. Miller has now allowed just two runs over 12 innings in his last three outings after being tagged for four runs while recording only one out in his spring debut.
Speaking of debuts, Martinez went hitless in three at-bats in his first appearance in Grapefruit League action as he continues to work his way back from surgery after suffering a meniscus tear in his left knee. Martinez struck out swinging in his first at-bat then grounded out to first base in each of the other two, meaning his surgically repaired left knee was hardly tested.
The Braves staked Miller to an early lead thanks to a sun-aided, two-out rally in the first inning. After Tigers starter Kyle Lobstein retired the first two hitters, Braves first baseman Kelly Johnson grounded a seeing-eye single up the middle then raced all the way home to score when left fielder Tyler Collins had trouble tracking a towering Jonny Gomes fly ball.
Collins temporarily lost the ball in the partly cloudy skies before lunging backwards to try to make the catch. The ball ultimately popped out of his glove as he hit the ground, allowing Johnson -- who was running on contact since there were two outs -- to score all the way from first base, while Gomes ended up at third, credited with a double.
Atlanta then tacked on another run one inning later in another unusual manner -- for the Braves, at least. Outfielder Todd Cunningham led off with a single, stole second base and advanced to third on a bunt single before scoring on a Phil Gosselin sacrifice fly. It was a sequence rarely seen last season from the Braves, who finished with the fewest sacrifice flies in the National League and the third-fewest bunt base hits.
"Funny things happen when you put the ball in play," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Today, we were able to execute, and I think we did a nice job of situational hitting and getting guys in from third base."
The newfound small ball pushed the lead to 2-0, and Miller would keep it that way until the fifth inning, when Tigers right fielder Andrew Romine roped a leadoff double to left field and later scored on an Ian Kinsler sacrifice fly to put Detroit on the board.
The Braves pushed the lead back to two in the sixth inning with yet another sacrifice fly -- this one off the bat of Ciriaco -- but the cushion would prove to be short-lived. Tigers third baseman Jefry Marte launched a game-tying, two-run homer the following inning before Atlanta rallied in the eighth.
Up next: Outfielder Nick Markakis, who underwent neck surgery after signing with the Braves this offseason, is expected to make his spring debut Monday in a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., live on MLB.TV. The competition for Atlanta's final starting pitching job will continue as rotation hopeful Mike Foltynewicz will make his fourth start of the spring, while the Astros will counter with fellow right-hander Scott Feldman.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.