Minor brilliant in dominant start vs. Rockies

Minor brilliant in dominant start vs. Rockies

Minor brilliant in dominant start vs. Rockies
ATLANTA -- The Braves entered July with some concerns about their rotation but opted to remain patient with Mike Minor. Two months later they are reaping the benefits and watching Minor develop into one of the game's top young starters.

Minor proved brilliant on Wednesday, allowing just one hit over seven innings, and Craig Kimbrel preserved the gem by notching the first multi-inning save of his career in a 1-0 win over the Rockies at Turner Field.

"I've been waiting to do that all year," a smiling Kimbrel said after striking out four of the five batters he faced in a dominant 1 1/3-innings effort.

It was going to take something pretty impressive to rival the contributions of Minor, who carried a no-hitter through six innings and ended up allowing one hit over seven scoreless frames. But Kimbrel managed to do just that when he was asked to enter the eighth inning with two on and two outs.

After Eric O'Flaherty recorded a key strikeout of Carlos Gonzalez, Kimbrel ended the threat with a strikeout of Jordan Pacheco. The three strikeouts notched by the intimidating closer in the ninth were interrupted only by a two-out walk to Jason Giambi.

"It was definitely a little different, but it's something I can certainly get used to," Kimbrel said.

Before Wednesday, Kimbrel had made just two multi-inning appearances. The first came in a lopsided loss during one of his earliest career appearances, in 2010. The other developed after he blew a save and pitched an additional inning against the Dodgers in 2011.

The decision by manager Fredi Gonzalez to bring in Kimbrel certainly was influenced by the fact that his club had won just six of its previous 17 games. But at the same time, it was a product of the fact that the right-hander had not pitched since blowing his third save of the season on Friday.

"He hasn't pitched," Gonzalez said. "It was the right situation. I don't know how often we can do that. If he pitches a normal [schedule] where he gets two or three save situations a week, it's hard to do that. ... But it all depends on the workload coming into that situation."

The decision was certainly appreciated by Minor, who recorded seven strikeouts and issued just four walks during his 109-pitch effort. The poise he showed while stranding two runners in the first and seventh innings provided further indication of how far he has come since compiling a 6.20 ERA in his first 15 starts.

In the 11 starts that have followed, Minor has a 2.58 ERA and has positioned himself to get a start if the Braves reach the playoffs.

"I kind of just dodged them," Minor said. "To me it wasn't one of my best starts. On paper it looks good. I just got lucky. They had a couple of guys on, and I got out of it again. My walks didn't hurt me this time, and I didn't give up a home run. That's always good."

The Braves' lone run scored after Chipper Jones opened the bottom of the fourth inning with a single and advanced to second on one of the four walks Alex White issued in four innings. When Brian McCann followed with a potential double-play groundout, Freddie Freeman made an aggressive slide that led Josh Rutledge to throw the ball into the Braves' dugout. This allowed Jones to score in uncontested fashion.

Minor's bid for a no-hitter ended when Pacheco drilled the first pitch of the seventh inning to left field for a clean single, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. Pacheco stole second but did not advance any farther, as Minor struck out three of the next four batters he faced.

Though Minor was bidding for history, it seemed unlikely that he would throw a no-hitter by himself, as he needed 80 pitches to complete the first five innings.

"It's one of those nights when I had a lot of pitches," he said. "It didn't even feel like I was throwing that great. I actually didn't know until I looked back in the fifth and saw they had no hits. Because of a couple of walks and a couple of hard balls they hit, I really didn't think I was throwing that great."

Minor issued a pair of two-out walks in the first inning, then promptly got Ramon Hernandez to ground the next pitch to shortstop Martin Prado. He then retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. The only blemish during this span came when second baseman Dan Uggla fumbled Dexter Fowler's one-out grounder in the third inning.

"I don't stress out too much when I get runners on like that," Minor said. "Earlier in the year, I might have told myself, 'Don't do this' or 'Don't do that.' Now it's 'Do this.' I have more confidence when I throw a pitch or have to get out of [a jam], because I've been there this year."

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