Homers, Hanson's solid outing lift Braves

Homers, Hanson's solid outing lift Braves

Homers, Hanson's solid outing lift Braves
ATLANTA -- Less than two weeks after being mired in what had the makings to be a devastating losing streak, the Braves are rolling with the help of a rejuvenated pitching staff and Dan Uggla's powerful bat.

Uggla extended his recent power barrage with a three-run home run and Hanson appeared locked-in during a season-best eight-inning effort that helped the Braves notch a season-best sixth straight win with a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon.

"It was flat-out unbelievable," Hanson said. "It was a lot of fun to watch. That was one of the funnest games I've ever been involved in. I threw well. There was a ton of good plays and it was a total team effort."

Uggla's three-run home run off Drew Hutchison provided all of the necessary support and Andrelton Simmons spiced his impressive first week in the Majors with his first career home run. But some of the game's top highlights seemed to occur when the Braves were in the field.

Martin Prado played a solid third base and Jason Heyward showed his athleticism with a diving grab in the seventh inning. Uggla then went airborne while diving to his right to stop a Kelly Johnson grounder before throwing to first base to cap closer Craig Kimbrel's perfect ninth inning.

"After Simmons hit that home run, he came up and said, 'I'm trying to be like you,'" Uggla said. "Then when I made the diving play, I was like, 'Dude, I'm trying to be like you, homie.'"

The Braves are certainly much looser than they were two weeks ago, when they were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. They have lost just one of the nine games played since that skid and they have seen their starting pitchers combined for a 1.93 ERA in the seven games played this month.

"We're playing well," Hanson said. "On every team I've ever been on you have the ups and downs. You can't ride the rollercoaster. You can't get too high and you can't get too low. We didn't do that. We know we've got a good team."

The eight-game skid reached its pinnacle on May 28, when Hanson lasted just 3 1/3 innings against the Cardinals. In the two starts that have followed, Hanson has totaled 15 innings and looked more like the top-flight pitcher he was considered to be before his right shoulder began bothering him last year.

Hanson limited the potentially-potent Blue Jays lineup to two runs and five hits while working eight innings for the first time since May 10, 2010. His lone mistake was an elevated first-pitch fastball that Jose Bautista sent into the left-center field seats for a two-run home run in the sixth inning.

Three of the five hits Hanson surrendered were produced after he retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth inning. But he was able to exhale when the inning ended with Jose Constanza catching Johnson's long fly ball against the left-field wall.

"Tommy has been great," Uggla said. "He's a bulldog just like the rest of our starting five. He's going to go out there and battle and compete. He was on his game today. That's for sure."

By pushing through his 111-pitch effort, Hanson aided the Braves' bullpen. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said before the game he did not want to use Eric O'Flaherty or Jonny Venters, who had both pitched the previous two days.

"We pushed him a little bit and he responded," Gonzalez said.

Hanson gained the luxury of pitching with a lead when Uggla deposited Hutchison's 92-mph fastball over the left-center field wall. The two-out, three-run shot was the veteran second baseman's third home run in his past five games.

"That's what they pay me to do," said Uggla, who is on pace to record his sixth consecutive 30-home run season.

Hutchison entered the game having allowed just one run in the 14 innings he had totaled in his previous two starts. Uggla's home run accounted for all of the damage he incurred during the first six innings. But Simmons gave the Braves some breathing room when he turned on a first-pitch slider and sent it into the left-field seats to open the bottom of the seventh inning.

After drilling his first career home run, Simmons returned to the dugout and received the silent treatment. He faked a high-five to himself near the bat rack and began walking toward the end of the bench before his teammates mobbed him.

"I saw the guys sitting down," Simmons said. "I've got a good read on them. I knew what they were doing."

Simmons' most significant impact through his first seven Major League games has come courtesy of his tremendous range, soft hands and rocket arm. As a bonus, he has hit .292 with a double, triple and now a home run in his first 24 career at-bats.

"He makes a big difference with our pitchers and he just makes us that much better," Gonzalez said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.