Minor earns major league stripes in debut (Updated)
Chapel Hill's Mikie Minor made his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves Monday night at Tropicana Field in Houston and came away with a no-decision, going six innings before leaving the game with the score tied 4-4.
Forrest Athletic Director Scott Delk invited fans of all ages in Chapel Hill to a barbeque and to watch Minor on TV and they were not disappointed as Minor was nothing short of spectacular, surrendering just three earned runs on five hits while striking out five and walking one and hitting one batter.
The Braves staked Minor to a 2-0 lead before the Forrest graduate found himself on the wrong side of Lady Luck in the fourth inning when two bloop hits combined with two other clean hits led to three Astro runs.
In the same fourth inning, Minor displayed the grit and quiet determination that has fueled his rise to the major leagues.
After the Astros put the three-spot up, Minor escaped further damage on back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
The score remained 3-2 as Minor settled in, performing like a seasoned veteran in a 1-2-3 fifth inning.
The Braves would come back in the top of the sixth, giving Minor the lead once again on a two-run homerun by Brian McCann.
In the bottom of the sixth Minor surrendered a four-pitch walk to Hunter Pence in the leadoff spot.
Pence stole second and then went to third on ground ball by Carlos Lee.
It looked like Minor would escape the jam when he induced Chris Johnson into a ground ball right back to Braves shortstop Alex Gonzales.
Pence was dead to rights at home, but Gonzales booted the ball and Pence scored, tying the game at four.
Once again, Minor reared back, ending his first game in the big show with consecutive strikeouts on some real nasty major league pitches.
After Minor's departure, the bottom fell out for the Braves as the Astros scored six times in the seventh inning and won going away 10-4.
In the postgame interview in Houston, Minor said, "There was excitement, but not too much. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I know there's good guys behind me and a good guy behind the plate, so after that first pitch I was good."
Asked about the bad luck in the fourth inning Minor responded by saying, "There were a couple of tough breaks here and there. Put them all together and they scored three runs in that one inning, which hurt me, but I kept us in the game for the most part."
Braves manager Bobby Cox could not be happy with the downward spiral after Minor left, but gave praise to their 2009 first round pick, saying, "Mike pitched a nice ballgame, he really did. I don't think he was nervous; he didn't appear that way. He had great mound presence, and he made some pitches when he needed to. He gave up a couple of bloopers there in the [fourth] inning that hurt, and we gave up a ton of bloopers in the seventh inning that hurt."
Minor appeared upbeat after the game and said, "It was a good debut. The team lost, but for the most part, it gave me confidence that I do belong here. I know tomorrow we're going to come out and I think it's Jurrjens throwing. We're going to be in the ballgame the whole time and probably bring out a W."
Delk, who watched Minor grow up and develop into a Division I college and eventual major league prospect said after the game, "I am not surprised by Mikie's performance tonight. Everything he has ever done, he has never got excited. He is even keeled and stone faced."
Delk added, "For the lack of other words, I would say that Mikie's performance tonight was outstanding. I think he was in his element. He has always been in the showplace and in the limelight and he responded just like he did as a freshman at Vanderbilt and as a freshman at Forrest."
Minor's next scheduled has been changed from Sunday to Tuesday night at Turner Field in Atlanta versus the Washington Nationals.
How important is Minor's quick rise to Braves?
It was the first start by a left-hander for the Braves this season and only the sixth by a southpaw in two years.
At press time, the Braves loss left them 1 ½ games in front of the Phillies, who are making a late season run in their defense for the top spot in the Eastern Division.
The Phillies and Braves play six more times this season and Minor will play a key role when he faces a bevy of left-handed hitters in the Philadelphia lineup.
Minor finds himself in a parallel path to his ex Vandy teammate David Price, who came up in the stretch run for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2008 and found himself in the World Series.
Another solid performance on Sunday will solidify Minor's spot in the rotation, giving the Braves a left-handed weapon they have not had since three-time Cy Young award winner Tom Glavine, who was recently inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame on Friday.
"People try to compare him to David Price and Stephen Strasburg", said Delk. "Mikie's probably not at that level right now, but I don't think he is that far off."
"I don't know if Turner Field will be able to hold all the Marshall Countians this Sunday", Delk smiled and said.