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Minor key to Braves' surge

Friday, August 26, 2011

After starting the season in the minor leagues, Chapel Hill's Mike Minor (4-2) has resurfaced as a major cog in the Atlanta Braves' uphill climb in an attempt to catch the first place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East.

Minor's hot August run began when the Forrest graduate got the call back to big leagues the first week of the month to start for the injured Jair Jurrjens and he pitched admirably, going 5.2 innings in a no-decision in New York versus the Mets.

The big lefty allowed four earned runs on seven hits, while walking two and striking out five in a Braves' 6-5 comeback win.

On Tuesday night, Minor took the hill at the fabled Wrigley Field in Chicago and picked up his third win in a row in a five-inning stint where he allowed four runs (3 earned) on six hits, while striking out six and walking none.

Jason Heyward's fourth inning grand slam staked Minor to a 5-0 fifth inning lead and it was just enough as the Tribe held on for 5-4 win, highlighted by reliever Craig Kimbrel, who tied the major league rookie record for saves as he notched number 40 on the season.

Cristhian Martinez came on for Minor in the bottom of the sixth.

In an interview after the game with Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer David O'Brien, Minor said about his stint, "After we got the five runs, I just wanted to go after hitters and throw strikes. I caught the middle of the plate against Soriano [on the homer] and after that it kind of snowballed on me. I hit the next batter, I was missing spots, it just wasn't a good inning. I couldn't get it going."

The win was the sixth in a row and eight out the last ten for the Braves, who now trail the Phillies by 6.5 games.

"Yeah, it's huge. The bullpen came through like they have all year. Heyward's grand slam was huge," said Minor on getting the win and Heyward's grand slam that was the difference in the contest.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said about Minor cruising through the first four innings before giving up four runs in the fifth, "I think sometimes it's growing pains. Young starter, you've got to grind those outs through the fifth and sixth innings. Usually the first inning, the fifth inning are the innings that the young starter gets in trouble. We saw that early on with Beachy. Hopefully the learning curve with Minor is short and he gets over that stuff."

In between those two starts, all Minor has done is beat the reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum 1-0 in a six inning, nine strikeout, one walk, shut-out gem and before that, Minor and the Braves won 10-4 on the night that former Braves manager Bobby Cox's number was retired in Atlanta.

Minor also pitched 5.2 innings that night, allowing just three runs as he scattered nine Cubs hits, walked one and whiffed five Chicago batters.

Minor's next start will more than likely be Sunday versus the Mets in New York.

The Vanderbilt graduate is now 7-4 in his young career for the Braves, who are way out in front in the National League Wild Card race, holding a 9.5 game lead over the defending World Series champion Giants.