Minor magnificent as Braves roll on

Minor magnificent as Braves roll on

Minor magnificent as Braves roll on
ATLANTA -- The Braves entered July with the hope of landing a starting pitcher before the Trade Deadline. Ben Sheets and Mike Minor have since improved the rotation to the point where the club may not feel the urgency to make a trade.

One night after Sheets added to the wonder of his unexpected comeback, Minor continued to distance himself from his early-season struggles with a determined effort that led the Braves to a 2-1 win over the Phillies on Saturday night.

"He's getting better and better," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "I think he's a guy we're going to rely on down the stretch to win some big ballgames. I think tonight was one of his first steps toward doing that."

Minor retired the final 13 batters he faced while limiting the Phillies to four hits and one run in a career-best eight innings, while striking out nine. The 24-year-old left-hander received all of the support he would need courtesy of Chipper Jones' sacrifice fly and Jason Heyward's third-inning RBI single off Joe Blanton.

"Today was about as good as I've seen [Minor]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Command of his fastball both sides of the plate, changeups behind in the count, changeups to strike people out. He really kept them off balance."

With their fourth consecutive victory, the Braves moved a season-best 12 games above .500 and possibly determined the fate of the Phillies, who sit 11 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race with Tuesday afternoon's Trade Deadline approaching.

"I felt like we had a chance to get [Minor]," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We didn't get him. He pitched good. We got four hits off him. That ain't going to win."

While the Phillies will spend the next couple days debating whether to trade Shane Victorino and possibly Hunter Pence, the Braves might re-evaluate their thoughts about acquiring a starting pitcher. With their top choice, Zack Greinke, no longer an option and Ryan Dempster floating in limbo, they can take solace in the fact that Sheets and Minor have already significantly improved their rotation this month.

Since ending his two-year retirement to join the Braves after the All-Star break, Sheets has limited opponents to one run in 18 innings. His presence has given the club the same benefit that it would have expected to receive from any of the pitchers it has targeted on the trade market.

Meanwhile, Minor has quickly made a believer out of many of the fans who were wanting him shipped back to the Minors as he carried a 6.20 ERA out of June. He has posted a 1.98 ERA in four July starts and in the process whittled that ERA down to 5.18.

"I think it got to the point where instead of feeling sorry for myself, I was more [ticked] off and I wanted to do something about it," Minor said. "I went to some of the guys and talked to them and talked to [pitching coach Roger McDowell] and the catchers. They pointed out all of my flaws with what I do out there. I just took it and worked off of it instead of not facing it."

When Minor tossed eight strong innings against the D-backs on April 19, he was still riding the momentum he had created with an impressive Spring Training. But while posting a 7.16 ERA and allowing 18 home runs in the 12 starts that followed, he provided the reminder that he was in the midst of a full Major League season.

"It's a complete 180 [degree turnaround]," Minor said. "I wouldn't say it's confidence. It's just my demeanor on the mound and not allowing small things to get to me. Things would snowball on me early in the season if I gave up a couple runs. Now it's just part of the game. If I give up one or two, we're still in the ballgame and I don't let it get carried away."

Minor's only mistake against the Phillies came when Chase Utley hit a changeup over the right-center-field wall with one out in the fourth inning. He has surrendered a National League-high 22 home runs this year, but each of the past four have been solo shots.

After being taken with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Minor spent the early portion of his professional career with the belief that his changeup is his best pitch. As this pitch has hurt him far too often this year, he has gained the confidence to rely much more heavily on his fastball, slider and curveball.

"It takes a little time and, you know, he's not a finished product by any means," Gonzalez said. "But he's headed in that direction pretty quickly and right in front of our eyes."

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