Braves' bats unable to back Minor's strong effort

Braves' bats unable to back Minor's strong effort

Braves' bats unable to back Minor's strong effort
ATLANTA -- When this weekend opened with a thrilling comeback win over the Dodgers, the Braves had visions of entering this week's key series against the Nationals with some momentum. But the results of the past two days will send them into this series with the motivation to turn things around immediately.

Chad Billingsley frustrated the Braves' offense and Luis Cruz capped a productive three-game series with a solo home run that doomed Mike Minor in a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.

"We're not swinging the bats real well right now," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Sometimes you've got to give credit to some of the guys out there on the mound. They're pitching us tough."

Cruz's one-out home run in the fifth inning proved to be too much to overcome for the Braves, who totaled two runs and went hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the final two games of this series. This marked the first time that Atlanta lost a series since dropping two of three against the Giants from July 17-19.

The Braves claimed victory on Friday night, despite recording just three hits though the first seven innings against Chris Capuano. Then after squandering numerous opportunities against Aaron Harang on Saturday, they closed the series by totaling three hits against Billingsley and two Dodgers relievers.

"Their pitching's pretty good, our pitching's pretty good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We just gave them opportunities to score runs and they took advantage of them. The opportunities they gave us, we didn't take advantage. It's just one of those things. We'll go on to Washington and hopefully our bats will get going."

Minor surrendered his 24th home run of the season to Cruz, and Jason Heyward lost two balls in the sun during the final two innings of this series finale. But as the Braves prepare to begin a key three-game series against the first-place Nationals on Monday, they have more reason to be concerned about Brian McCann, who went 0-for-3 on Sunday.

McCann has been limited to four singles in 39 August at-bats.

"I see some guys with that look on their face at the plate that are scuffling," Jones said. "We've got to get them going."

Minor pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the third inning and appeared to be in control throughout most of his seven-inning effort. But the young left-hander was forced to pay for the 91 mph fastball that Cruz drilled over the left-field wall with one out in the fifth inning.

Cruz's second home run of the series provided the Dodgers a 1-0 advantage that they widened during the final two innings with assistance from a blinding sun. Mark Ellis recorded an RBI single in the eighth inning when Heyward lost a fly ball near the right-field foul line.

Ellis added a bases-clearing double in the ninth inning after A.J. Ellis hit a high fly ball that fell in front of Heyward as he attempted to shield his eyes from the sun.

"When I ran over there the last time, I could see how bad it was," Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. "When it's like that, it's tough to do anything."

While the offensive production and result might have been disappointing, the Braves were pleased to see Minor continue to mature while limiting the Dodgers to five hits over seven innings. The young left-hander did not flinch after surrendering consecutive singles following Cruz's home run.

Minor has been rewarded with just two wins while posting a 2.29 ERA in his past eight starts. The Braves have totaled one run in the past three games he has started. They have also scored fewer than two runs in four of the past six games he has started.

"It's nice to see the maturity and experience kicking in where he can get out of those jams," Gonzalez said. "It always seems like there's one guy in every rotation that can't get any runs scored and he's that guy. I don't know what he needs to do."

Minor certainly did not benefit from a matchup against Billingsley, who scattered three hits over seven innings. The veteran right-hander has posted a 1.30 ERA in his past six starts, all wins.

Billingsley kept the Braves hitless until Heyward concluded an 11-pitch at-bat with a two-out triple in the fourth inning. But after Freddie Freeman followed with a walk, the scoring threat ended with Dan Uggla producing a popup caught by first baseman Juan Rivera.

The Braves' only other serious threat against Billingsley came after Bourn singled and reached third base with a stolen base and groundout in the sixth inning. But this time Billingsley got the best of Heyward with an inning-ending strikeout.

"Chad's on a nice roll," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He was using the fastball an awful lot to both sides the whole day, attacking the zone. They have a lot of power hitters, and I was happy when we tacked on a run and then put some separation. He pitched out of a couple jams. Making the pitch to strike out Heyward was big."

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