published Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Chicago Cubs hit 3 homers, beat Atlanta Braves 5-1

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, right, dives to beat the throw to Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla after hitting a double int he first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 4, 2012, in Atlanta.
Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, right, dives to beat the throw to Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla after hitting a double int he first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 4, 2012, in Atlanta.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Ben Sheets gave up four runs in five innings for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in his first professional appearance in nearly two years.

The veteran right-hander gave up two runs in both the first and second innings, but settled down after that, retiring 10 in a row to end his outing. He struck out six and walked one.

“It’s been awhile,” Sheets said. “I had to get back out there and it stinks that I made a few mistakes early. I felt like I made a lot of good pitches in the first few innings, but every mistake I made they hit hard.”

The Atlanta Braves hope the four-time All-Star can bolster their starting rotation in the coming weeks. The 33-year-old last pitched in the majors with the Oakland Athletics in 2010. He had a 4-9 record and a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts before an elbow injury ended his season.

He threw 74 pitches, including 46 strikes on Wednesday. His fastball sat around 90 miles per hour most of the evening.

“It doesn’t change all that much,” Sheets said. “Like they say, it’s like riding a bike. It all comes back to you. You’ve got to settle yourself down, slow the game down and make pitches.”

Things didn’t start well for Sheets (0-1), who gave up back-to-back triples to the first two batters on hard-hit balls. He gave up all five hits during the first two innings, and the Jackson Generals, who are the Seattle Mariners’ Double-A affiliate, made him pay.

But flashes of the old Sheets — who was often dominant for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2000s — began to make a more regular occurrence as the game progressed. His sharp curveball produced several flailing swings and his fastball command improved throughout the night.

He also made an athletic play to end the fourth inning, pouncing on a bunt down the third-base line and firing an accurate throw to first for the out.

“I’m really pleased with my breaking ball — the shape of it’s really good,” Sheets said. “I hung one or two, but that’s OK because I put a lot of guys away with it. That’s something I’ll build on and then in five days come back and try it again.”

He ended the outing by striking out Denny Almonte with a 91 mph fastball.

Sheets is expected to make another start in Pearl on Monday.

Atlanta is searching for pitching depth after Brandon Beachy was lost for the season to a torn elbow ligament. Beachy was 5-5 over 13 starts with a 2.00 ERA, tied for lowest in the majors.

For a Braves team that’s lost five of their last seven, help is needed quickly. But Sheets is trying not to get too ahead of himself.

“I’m a long way from Atlanta,” Sheets said. “We’ll keep going until we get there. We’ll find a way hopefully.”

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