Hand's spot start helps Marlins keep pace in race

Lefty tosses six scoreless as Miami takes series from Braves

Hand's spot start helps Marlins keep pace in race

MIAMI -- The Marlins came home on Monday with a prime chance to make up ground in the National League Wild Card race, but they kicked off their homestand inauspiciously by dropping two of three to the Mets.

Then the Braves arrived and Miami was finally able to get back on track, winning big the first game on Friday. The Marlins dropped the second game of the series by one run, but they capped off a series win on Sunday with a 4-0 shutout of their NL East rivals. The series victory was Miami's first since taking three of four over the Diamondbacks in mid-August.

By salvaging the finale, the Marlins secured their first season series over the Braves since 2009. They also will arrive in Milwaukee on Monday just 4 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot.

"You think about it, you play so many games against a team all year, you bring in pitchers to face the same guys game after game. You're just wondering how long they're gonna hold together," manager Mike Redmond said. "So it was big. We needed to win a series, and to do it at this stage of the game is big for us."

It's hard to separate which part of the game was most pivotal -- Brad Hand's six scoreless innings or the offense's ability to drive in four runs on just eight hits. But both sides worked in conjunction on the way to Miami's 15th shutout and 40th home victory of the season.

"The good thing is we won a series, and that just makes the next one [in Milwaukee] that much more important," said Casey McGehee, who scored a run and drove in five runs on this homestand. "Believe it or not, we're still hanging around. We'll see where this goes."

Hand, starting in place of the injured Henderson Alvarez, hadn't been pitching often since he made nine straight starts from July 3-Aug. 15. So Redmond had a good enough excuse to take his starter out of the game despite his low pitch count (74).

But it comes down to Hand giving the Marlins a chance to win, something Redmond touched on when he talked about Hand earlier this weekend. The southpaw had faced the minimum through 3 2/3 innings before Freddie Freeman snuck a grounder through the right side for the Braves' first hit of the game. However, much like the rest of the game, Hand was able to get out of the jam.

"The first two innings, I threw 12 pitches," said Hand, whose last shutout performance was on July 25 in Houston. "I was just trying to throw early strikes, get early contact. When I get in trouble, I walk people, fall behind. I was trying to get ahead in the count and pitch to contact."

Hand's sixth inning proved to be the difference in the game. The Marlins had just gotten him a one-run lead, but he put it in jeopardy by allowing a pair of hits to lead off the inning, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But he managed to retire the next three batters to escape unscathed.

Even though Hand's second time through Atlanta's order wasn't as perfect as when he used 23 pitches to retire the first nine batters he faced, he pitched around trouble and only allowed one runner past second base.

"Brad did a great job," McGehee said. "He got himself into trouble that one inning and he pulled a little Houdini act getting out of it."

The offense did its fair share of work. In just his third start at first since Aug. 30, Garrett Jones started a two-out rally in the fifth inning with a double into left field. Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove him in three pitches later on a bloop single hit at Justin Upton in left field.

Despite stringing together three straight two-out hits, the Marlins could only coax one run out of Braves starter Julio Teheran in the inning. But they finally got to him in the sixth and tacked on three earned runs. Yelich led off the inning with a single and a stolen base. Then Donovan Solano, after taking a first-pitch strike, worked a six-pitch at-bat for a single deep enough to center to score Yelich from second.

With one out and runners on the corners, Marcell Ozuna laced his 25th double of the year, driving in his fifth run of the series. Teheran was removed after the play, but Saltalamacchia added another run on a deep sacrifice fly to center.

"I just think that we're getting better," Redmond said. "I think no doubt that we've battled against every team. We were able to do some things against [the Braves] this year that we weren't able to do last year, for example, or haven't done in a long time. …When you talk about getting to where we need to go, we gotta beat the Braves and we gotta beat the Nationals. That's just the way it is."

Maria Torres is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.