Backups help Braves blast Blue Jays

Backups help Braves blast Blue Jays

May 31st, 2013 by Associated Press in Sports - Professional

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor delivers to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning of a baseball game at Turner Field in Atlanta, Thursday, May 30, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - Fredi Gonzalez gave three struggling stars a chance to relax Thursday night.

Fill-in starters Ramiro Pena, Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis then showed the slumping regulars that hitting isn't so difficult.

Pena drove in four runs with three hits, including a run-scoring single in the sixth that gave Atlanta the lead, Mike Minor pitched seven strong innings and the Braves' makeshift lineup had a season-high 16 hits in an 11-3 win over R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Freddie Freeman and Reed Johnson homered, Gattis had three hits and Schafer had two hits, including a two-run single in the sixth.

"We are trying to do our job, you know," Pena said. "We want to play well also. I think we got great ABs and we produced."

Pena, Schafer and Gattis made the most of fill-in starts as Gonzalez rested outfielders B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward and second baseman Dan Uggla, all hitting below .200.

Gonzalez wouldn't say after the game if he would hold out the regulars again when the Braves open a weekend series against the Washington Nationals tonight.

"We'll see," Gonzalez said. "The guys played well. One thing you always want to do is put your best team out there."

Minor (7-2) gave up six hits and three runs -- two earned -- with five strikeouts and no walks in winning his fourth straight decision.

Dickey (4-7) allowed 11 hits and six runs in six innings. It was his fourth start allowing six or more runs this season, leaving his ERA at 5.18 one season after he won the National League Cy Young Award with the Mets.

Dickey said he gave up a lot of soft hits.

"I might have given up four hard-hit balls all night," he said. "I mean, it was tough. It seemed like every ball off the bat would find a hole somewhere, or a little space in the outfield.

"This game's tough. It's hard. And you can't quit grinding it out, and you can't quit searching for the answers. I certainly won't. And I'll find it. I'll find it."

The Blue Jays scored three runs in the sixth to pull even at 3, but the Braves scored three off Dickey in the bottom of the inning. Pena's infield single drove in Gattis, who led off with a single. Schafer singled with two outs to drive in Chris Johnson, who reached on a fielder's choice grounder, and Pena.

Toronto manager John Gibbons said Dickey's velocity on his knuckleball is down.

"He's been battling that, trying to find it," Gibbons said. "He battles you out there. I know that's frustrating him."

Braves third baseman Juan Francisco, who was sharing time with Chris Johnson, was designated for assignment. Francisco was hitting .241 with five homers, 16 RBIs and 43 strikeouts in 108 at-bats.

The Braves have 10 days to trade, release or send Francisco outright to the minors.

Schafer, who hit leadoff and started in center field for Upton, had a first-inning double that bounced over third baseman Mark DeRosa. Schafer scored on Andrelton Simmons' single to left field.

Gattis, starting in left field, led off the second by slapping a single to right field. Gattis scored on a single to left by Pena, who started for Uggla.

Heyward, pinch-hitting in the seventh, reached on catcher's interference when his bat hit J.P. Arencibia's glove.

Freeman pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third with his two-out homer off Dickey. The homer came on the night fans received Freeman bobblehead dolls.

Toronto pulled even in the sixth. Dickey led off with an infield single and moved to second when Simmons misplayed Jose Bautista's grounder for an error. Edwin Encarnacion drove in Dickey with a single to center, and DeRosa added a two-run double to right field.

Reed Johnson hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer off Todd Redmond in the eighth, capping the impressive show of depth on the Braves' roster.

"It's a deep team position-wise," Gonzalez said. "There are some days that the guys sitting on the bench may be better than the guys on the field and vice versa. You've got to take every opportunity and put guys out there."

Gonzalez remains confident in Upton, Uggla and Heyward.

"You've got to believe the back of the baseball cards, and they're good players," Gonzalez said. "It may not even be the end of June. It may be the middle of June or five days from now. Who knows? But those bench guys are playing well."