Cruising Minor unravels in fifth frame vs. Fish

Cruising Minor unravels in fifth frame vs. Fish

ATLANTA -- Mike Minor had only himself to blame for making the fatal mistake of issuing a two-out walk to a pitcher. But as he looks back on his most recent disappointing outing, the Braves left-hander will have to wonder if things would have been different with some cooperation from Mother Nature.

Justin Ruggiano's three-run home run in the fifth inning might have served as the crushing blow to the Braves in Wednesday night's 6-3 loss to the Marlins at a rain-drenched Turner Field. But Ruggiano would not have had the opportunity to deliver had Minor not issued a two-out walk to Ricky Nolasco.

"I'm not saying at all it was just the rain and that's why I gave up the hits or gave up the walk," Minor said. "It could have gone either way if it wasn't raining. In that particular inning, it was tough for me to grip the ball and I couldn't get comfortable."

Despite the fact that a steady rain fell throughout most of the game, Minor seemed to be in complete command as he entered the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead. But this might have been a result of the fact that he had not been forced to pitch out of the stretch after allowing two Marlins to reach safely during the relatively dry first inning.

Because he leaves his left hand exposed while pitching out of the stretch, Minor had trouble gripping the baseball after Donovan Solano opened the decisive fifth with a double. Still, he recorded consecutive strikeouts and seemed positioned to escape unscathed before issuing a seven-pitch walk to Nolasco, while throwing only four-seam fastballs.

"I almost shook to a changeup, because you have more fingers on it and more of a grip," Minor said. "I didn't, because it was the pitcher. Then Ruggiano, I was trying to attack guys and throw strikes and it really didn't work out."

Taking advantage of just the fifth walk Minor has ever issued to a pitcher, Ruggiano drilled an elevated 1-0 fastball over the left-field wall. The three-run shot propelled the Marlins to their 11th win in their past 16 games. The Braves had won each of the four previous games played in this season series with their division rivals.

"I was really impressed [with Nolasco's at-bat]," Ruggiano said. "He kind of fired me up a little bit. I had to slow myself down just to get in the box. That was a great at-bat. It gave us a chance. I think [Minor] just missed his spot a little bit with a fastball."

After Cory Gearrin extended his struggles by allowing two eighth-inning runs, the Braves tallied three hits that led to a run in the ninth inning. But it was not enough to overcome the damage done to Minor, who allowed the Marlins to gain a two-run lead with Adeiny Hechavarria's two-out double in the sixth inning.

Minor's bid to gain an All-Star selection has been tarnished, as he has allowed at least four runs in three of his past four starts. The 25-year-old southpaw allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of his previous 23 starts, a stretch that had extended back to July 5 of last year.

Some of Minor's recent struggles have come as a result of the seven home runs he has surrendered in his past six starts. He allowed a total of seven while compiling a 2.48 ERA in his first 11 starts this season.

"I still see the guy that gives you a nice chance to win a ballgame," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

While Minor struggled, Nolasco proved steady in what might have been the last start he ever makes against the Braves while wearing a Marlins uniform. As the veteran right-hander allowed two earned runs in seven innings amid the wet conditions, he gave pitching-hungry clubs even more reason to attempt to acquire him before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

"It started getting ugly there after the first few innings," Nolasco said. "The grounds crew did a great job. At that point, it's just mind over matter. They've got to deal with it. You've got to deal with it. Everybody's got to deal with it."

B.J. Upton opened the bottom of the third inning with an infield single that died in the wet grass in front of the plate. Upton scored the game's first run on a two-out single from Andrelton Simmons, who had recorded just two hits in his previous 35 at-bats with two outs and a runner in scoring position.

Brian McCann added to the Braves' early advantage with a one-out solo home run in the fourth inning. That was the eighth career homer McCann hit against Nolasco. He has not hit more than four against any other pitcher.

Nolasco gained some revenge in the sixth inning when he notched his 1,000th career strikeout against McCann, who has hit .345 in his career against the Marlins right-hander.

One night after recording season highs in hits (16) and at-bats with runners in scoring position (22), the Braves were never able to produce that one big inning that might have allowed them to overcome Minor's struggles and escape the dreary conditions with a victory.

"It's not fun when you see water drops dripping off the bill of your helmet, but you have to deal with it," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "The other team's dealing with it, too, so you just have to go out there and battle."

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