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{"content":["no_hitter" ] }

Offensive woes continue as Braves no-hit by Phillies

Total of one run in last 27 innings after Hamels, 'pen combine on no-no

Offensive woes continue as Braves no-hit by Phillies play video for Offensive woes continue as Braves no-hit by Phillies

ATLANTA -- The Braves have experienced some disappointing Septembers over the past few years. But none of them have included the forgettable start that was experienced on Monday afternoon, when Cole Hamels and three relievers combined to throw a no-hitter in the Phillies' 7-0 win.

"It just feels like a loss," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "No matter if we get 20 hits or zero hits, we lost one. Tomorrow, we'll come out and try to win one."

If the Braves are just trying to make steady progress, they might simply aim to tally multiple runs. This combined no-hit shutout extended a skid during which the Braves have totaled just one run over their past three games. That lone run came courtesy of Evan Gattis' solo shot in Sunday's win over the Marlins.

Fortunately, this latest offensive malaise has not wrecked Atlanta's postseason hopes. The Braves still sit 1 1/2 games back of the Brewers in the fluid battle to gain the National League's second Wild Card entry.

"The game of baseball is kind of funny," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You feel like you're in a good stride and then you go through a stretch of scoring one run in 27 innings. We were lucky enough to win one of those games."

Once Hamels exited after totaling 108 pitches over six hitless innings, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon combined to preserve the first combined no-hitter in Phillies history, and the first completed against the Braves. The 2012 Mariners had recorded the most recent of the 10 previous combined no-hitters in Major League history.

Gonzalez said he wasn't surprised the Phillies opted to bring their closer into the game to preserve history, despite the score being lopsided. Papelbon ended the game by getting Philadelphia-area native Phil Gosselin to line out to first base.

"It sums up the fight all year, even though it hasn't gone the way we wanted," Hamels said. "Seeing the talent next to me is something special. I know we won't be able to have this sort of opportunity ever again."

As Hamels' pitch count hit 60 through the first three innings and rose to 92 through five, there was reason to wonder when he would be lifted. That answer came in the seventh, when Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg opted to lift his veteran lefty after the Braves had intentionally walked Cody Asche to put two on with two outs.

Grady Sizemore replaced Hamels as a pinch-hitter and promptly drew a walk to load the bases for light-hitting Ben Revere. Julio Teheran got ahead of Revere with a 1-2 count and then hung a slider that the speedy center fielder sent over Jason Heyward's head for a three-run triple that highlighted his career-best five-RBI performance.

"I think the [slider] was the perfect pitch to him, but it wasn't the [right] location," Teheran said. "I tried to make my pitches, but I wasn't able to do it."

It looked like the Braves might have their way with Hamels when Heyward and Emilio Bonifacio drew consecutive walks to begin the bottom of the first inning. But Hamels responded with consecutive strikeouts of Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton before laboring through hot, humid conditions.

"I feel like we should have executed in that situation, but we didn't," Upton said. "It kind of steamrolled from there."

Hamels found himself in trouble yet again in the third inning, when he issued a leadoff walk to Heyward, who notched his third stolen base of the afternoon before Freeman drew a one-out walk. After Upton's weak groundout put runners at second and third base, Marlon Byrd made the defensive play of the day. His diving grab of Chris Johnson's liner in right field prevented two runs from scoring and ultimately enabled the Phillies to celebrate the no-hitter.

Teheran had allowed just three hits through the first six innings. After Asche doubled to begin the third, Hamels produced a sacrifice bunt that enabled Revere to follow with his first sacrifice fly of the season. Hamels helped himself again in the sixth inning when he singled and then scored on Jimmy Rollins' triple.

"I was trying to do the same thing I had been doing all year," Teheran said. "I made a couple mistakes that cost me a couple of runs. But I think everything was going their way today. So there is nothing we can do about it."

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{"content":["no_hitter" ] }
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Eye toward stretch run, Fredi pinch-hits for J-Up

Braves skipper opts to give Constanza first at-bat of '14 in ninth inning of no-no

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ATLANTA -- While tearing through opposing pitchers in August, Justin Upton established himself as a player who could receive attention from a number of Most Valuable Player Award voters this year. But as the Braves found themselves on the wrong end of a combined no-hitter in Monday's 7-0 loss to the Phillies, manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to pinch-hit for Upton in the ninth inning.

"They're up seven runs in the ninth and we're playing in the heat," Upton said. "Skip thought it was a good time to take me off the field. So be it."

Under normal circumstances, nobody would have thought anything about the fact that Gonzalez opted to remove his valuable left fielder from a game his club had little chance of winning. But given the fact that Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon were bidding to complete just the 11th combined no-hitter in Major League history, these were not normal circumstances.

Still, Gonzalez essentially admitted that he was more concerned about getting his players ready for what lies ahead than he was battling against being on the wrong side of history.

So instead of sticking with Upton, who had hit eight homers and compiled a .961 OPS in his previous 31 games, Gonzalez went with Jose Constanza, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday by getting his first taste of the big leagues this year.

"With the score what it was, I wanted to get Constanza in there," Gonzalez said. "Down the road, he might be a guy who can pinch-hit for us and maybe get him an at-bat. If we would have extended that inning there, Ramiro Pena was on-deck for Andrelton Simmons. So as far as health-wise, [Upton] was fine."

Upton, who has struck out in five of his past 11 at-bats, said he did not argue with Gonzalez's decision.

"I wasn't expecting it, but he came to me and said, 'We've got some guys up here who haven't had at-bats up here,'" Upton said. "He said he really wanted to get Constanza an at-bat, because it could be huge for us in the next couple of days if he needs to come in and get an at-bat."

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Gosselin's Philly ties now include being no-hit

Braves second baseman grew up Phillies fan, makes final out in Atlanta

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ATLANTA -- Soon after graduating from suburban Philadelphia's Malvern Prep, Phil Gosselin found himself getting used to life at the University of Virginia and keeping up to date with his beloved Phillies, who were closing in on what would be the first of five consecutive National League East titles. One year later, he and his childhood friends would celebrate the dominance Cole Hamels showed during the 2008 World Series.

But on Monday afternoon at Turner Field, Gosselin found himself as just one of the many Braves who did not solve Hamels or any of the three Philadelphia relievers -- Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon -- who combined to throw a no-hittter in the Phillies' 7-0 win.

As fate would have it, Gosselin actually made the final out when he hit a soft liner that Darin Ruf gloved to complete the first combined no-hitter ever thrown by the Phillies. This also marked the first time more than one pitcher teamed to complete a no-hitter against the Braves.

"I grew up watching those guys. It's weird playing against them now and being a part of the no-hitter," Gosselin said. "It [stinks] being on this side of it, for sure."

The 11th combined no-hitter in Major League history simply extended the offensive woes experienced by the Braves, who have now totaled one run in their past 27 innings. They were fortunate that the lone run which came courtesy of an Evan Gattis solo homer was enough to celebrate a 1-0 win on Sunday against the Marlins.

"It's a feat that hasn't been done that often when you go with four combined pitchers to throw a no-hitter," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But it's still just a loss."

When Randy Johnson tossed the first no-hitter in Turner Field on May 18, 2004, he was simply dominant as he worked his way toward a perfect game. When Ubaldo Jimenez notched the second no-hitter at this stadium in 2010, he was fortunate that his high early pitch count did not send him to the showers in early fashion.

Hamels really never had a chance to get his footing like Jimenez did more than four years ago. The Phillies lefty needed 60 pitches to get through the first three innings and his pitch count sat at 92 through five innings. He ended up totaling 108 pitches over six innings that included seven strikeouts and five walks.

"It seemed like against one guy he couldn't throw a strike, he'd be all over the place," Gosselin said. "And then against the next guy, he'd be boom, boom, boom and he's dotting up on you. So it was one of those effectively wild days where he had the good stuff and couldn't control it with everybody. But when he needed to, he was hitting his spots."

Hamels began his outing by issuing consecutive walks to Jason Heyward and Emilio Bonifacio. With Heyward and Bonifacio at second and third base and one out in the first inning, Hamels righted himself with a strikeout of Justin Upton. Chris Johnson then flied out to deep left field to end the inning.

"We were all out there trying to compete and battle," Upton said. "We obviously know we don't have any hits. But that's not what is on our mind. What's on our mind is we're just trying to win a ballgame. Later on, when we were down by five runs, we were trying to scrap some runs across."

After Hamels issued two more walks in the third inning, Johnson left runners stranded at second and third when his sinking liner to right field fell in the glove of a diving Marlon Byrd.

"I was just hoping it would get down," Johnson said. "He's a pretty good outfielder. The ball just stayed up a little bit. I tried to stay inside it and go the other way. I tried left field the at-bat before. So, I figured I'd try right. That didn't work either."

While it would certainly seem like the Braves did not want to be on the wrong side of history, Gonzalez still opted to pinch-hit Jose Constanza, who had just returned to the Majors a few hours earlier, for National League Most Valuable Player candidate Upton in the ninth inning.

Gonzalez said he believes the decision to give Constanza a chance to reacquaint himself with the pinch-hit role could prove beneficial later this month. In other words, he felt it was more important to prepare for winnable games down the stretch than to simply try to prevent Monday's combined no-hitter.

"I'm sure it's cool for them, but it's just a loss for us," Gonzalez said. "Tomorrow we'll come out and try to win a ballgame."

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Terdoslavich among callups looking to help off bench

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ATLANTA -- Many eyes will be on Christian Bethancourt as he spends the next month possibly preparing to serve as Atlanta's starting catcher as early as next year. But among this year's September roster additions, Joey Terdoslavich might have as much of an influence as Bethancourt.

When all Major League rosters expanded on Monday, the Braves added Terdoslavich, outfielder Jose Constanza, right-handed reliever Juan Jaime and left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve. Bethancourt will play in Triple-A Gwinnett's regular-season finale on Monday and then join Atlanta's roster on Tuesday.

Bethancourt will be coming back to the Majors feeling good about the way he has been swinging the bat recently. The highly regarded prospect, known primarily for his defensive ability, entered Monday with 12 hits in his past 21 at-bats. Constanza, who hit .293 with a .344 on-base percentage for Gwinnett this year, will attempt to aid the Braves much like he has the past few years -- as a role player whose speed can prove beneficial as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

Terdoslavich will have a chance to provide the Braves with the reliable pinch-hitter they have lacked all season. When the regular season began, Ryan Doumit was supposed to be an upgraded version of Terdoslavich. But while hitting .194 with a .234 on-base percentage this year, Doumit has proven to be a primary reason the bench has been one of Atlanta's most glaring weaknesses.

In his attempt to strengthen the bench, Terdoslavich can only hope to extend the success he had while batting .273 with seven home runs and an .811 OPS in his final 34 games with Gwinnett. These might not be jaw-dropping numbers, but they were certainly more impressive than the .224 batting average, four homers and .646 OPS he produced in his first 75 games of the year.

"It's been a grind, but I learned a lot," Terdoslavich said. "Any time you go through something like that, you learn new things and you learn to work through it. I'm just excited to be back here."

As Terdoslavich played the final three months of the 2013 season with Atlanta, he spent some time learning the pinch-hitting craft from Reed Johnson and some of the club's other veterans. Terdoslavich recorded just four hits in 30 pinch-hit at-bats, but he feels fortunate to have at least experienced some time in that role.

"I learned a lot last year from Reed and all of the other guys," Terdoslavich said. "They helped me work on it, and I learned a lot doing it last year. At first, it's not the easiest thing in the world, but I have some knowledge of how to go about it and I do the best I can."

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Upton, Minor lead Braves in bounce-back contest vs. Phils

After Phillies' no-hitter, Atlanta looks to slugger to support Minor

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Justin Upton's red-hot August helped revive the Braves from a rough stretch during which they lost eight straight and 12 of 15, but they need more out of their left fielder if they are to snag one of the National League's two Wild Card spots.

Atlanta sits 1 1/2 games out of the NL Wild Card after being no-hit by Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia bullpen on Monday, but Kyle Kendrick's presence on the mound on Tuesday could be what keeps Upton's momentum going.

The younger Upton brother has hit .364 (8-for-22) with two homers and a 1.146 OPS in his career against the Phillies' right-hander. In August, Upton hit .291 (30-for-103) with seven homers, 28 RBIs (six of which were game-winning) and a .946 OPS.

If Kendrick can cool down Upton and keep handcuffing the Braves as Hamels and Co. did so efficiently on Monday, it will continue what has been a terrific run for the Phillies as of late considering their woes this season.

At 14-13, August was Philadelphia's first winning month since they went 1-0 in March by virtue of an Opening Day victory. The Phillies finished August on an 8-4 run for their first full month above .500 since September 2012.

If Philadelphia plans to play spoiler and finish this September above .500 as well, it will need a better performance from Kendrick, who has to pitch opposite rejuvenated Braves lefty Mike Minor at Turner Field.

Kendrick has compiled a 6.59 ERA in his past 10 starts, pitching beyond the sixth inning only twice during that span. He has also surrendered 11 home runs in that stretch, allowing the opposition to take him deep in eight starts.

The Braves are 51-19 when they homer, including their victory against Kendrick on July 20 when Chris Johnson went deep. Meanwhile, the Phillies are 7-11 in games during which Kendrick allows a long ball.

Braves: Minor turning season around
After compiling a 5.42 ERA and allowing 18 home runs in his first 17 starts, Atlanta decided to skip Minor's turn in the rotation. The move has paid dividends since then, as the left-hander has righted the ship.

Minor has recorded four consecutive quality starts, compiling a 2.22 ERA and pitching at least 6 2/3 innings in each turn. He has surrendered only one earned run in each of his past two, allowing only nine total baserunners in 14 2/3 innings.

"I do feel like I've turned the corner with pitches and hitting spots and attacking hitters," Minor said after his gem against the Mets on Aug. 28. "I do feel confident. I don't feel that little guy in the back of my head is saying, 'Don't give up the home run' anymore. I feel like I'm attacking guys and going right after them."

Phillies: Ruiz knows no-nos
The Phillies' combined no-hitter against the Braves on Monday afternoon marked the third no-no caught by Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia's veteran backstop.

Ruiz was also behind the plate for Roy Halladay's two no-hitters in 2010. The first came on May 29, and the second was during Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Reds on Oct. 6.

Former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek holds the record for most no-hitters caught at four.

Worth noting
• Atlanta's Jason Heyward has reached base safely via a hit or a walk in 84 of his past 98 games.

• Dating back to 2011, the Phillies have won four straight games on Labor Day.

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Jaime, Shreve hop back into Braves' bullpen

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ATLANTA -- Right-hander Juan Jaime and left-hander Chasen Shreve did not need any introductions when they entered the Braves' clubhouse to prepare for Monday afternoon's game against the Phillies. Both had been brought to the Majors earlier this year to be a part of Atlanta's bullpen.

Jaime and Shreve were the only pitchers the Braves promoted when all Major League teams were permitted to begin using an expanded roster on Monday. This year's other September roster additions were catcher Christian Bethancourt, outfielder Jose Constanza and utility man Joey Terdoslavich.

Jaime produced a 3.51 ERA, notched 63 strikeouts and issued 36 walks while recording 18 saves for Triple-A Gwinnett this season. After his second stint in Atlanta's bullpen concluded in August, the flame-throwing right-hander registered eight strikeouts and issued three walks in 5 1/3 innings for Gwinnett.

While command remains a concern for Jaime, he did show some improvement as the season progressed. Seemingly disgruntled when he was sent back to Gwinnett after pitching effectively for Atlanta in June and July, he walked 13 of the 50 batters he faced from June 30-July 26. He walked just seven of the final 43 batters he faced while pitching for both Atlanta and Gwinnett from July 29-Aug. 30.

After making the jump from Double-A Mississippi after the All-Star break, Shreve allowed one run and six hits in the five innings he completed for Atlanta. But the primary reason he did not stay at the Major League level was the fact he allowed left-handed hitters to go 5-for-9 against him.

Though Shreve gives the Braves another lefty in the bullpen, he has performed much like James Russell, who has had better success against right-handed hitters this year. During the 46 appearances he combined to make for Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi, Shreve allowed left-handed hitters to bat .286 with a .321 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters batted .202 with a .245 on-base percentage against him.

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Prospect Bethancourt among September callups

Catcher coming up Tuesday; Constanza, Terdoslavich, Jaime, Shreve also on way

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ATLANTA -- Highly regarded catching prospect Christian Bethancourt will headline the list of Minor League players that will attempt to help the Braves gain a postseason berth in September. But when the rosters expand Monday, Bethancourt -- Atlanta's No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com -- will not be among the first wave of additions who are expected to arrive from the Triple-A Gwinnett club.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated a group of Gwinnett's players will arrive at Turner Field in time for Monday afternoon's series opener against the Phillies. Bethancourt will join Atlanta on Tuesday, after Gwinnett concludes its regular season Monday.

Along with Bethancourt, outfielder Jose Constanza and switch-hitting utility man Joey Terdoslavich will be the position players who will spend the season's final month on Atlanta's roster. The pitchers getting a call are right-handed reliever Juan Jaime and left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve.

Constanza and Terdoslavich are the only members of this group who have not spent time at the Major League level this year. But they have both been with Atlanta for extended stretches over the past few years.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }

Behind Wood's gem, Braves keep pace in WC race

Lefty whiffs 12 over eight scoreless; club trims Nats' East lead to six

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ATLANTA -- Given the amount of tough luck Alex Wood has encountered this year, there was reason to wonder what might go wrong as he once again was given the task of working with limited support. But when he was backed into a corner Sunday afternoon, the young Braves left-hander came out fighting with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.

Wood dazzled as he matched a career-high 12 strikeouts over the eight scoreless innings he completed for the Braves in a 1-0 win over the Marlins. His one run of support came via the fulfillment of a casual pregame prediction by Evan Gattis.

"He's always pretty candid about what he's going to do and I asked him, 'Are you going to hit a home run today?'" Wood said. "He thought about it for a second and then he said, 'Yeah, I'm probably going to hit a home run today.'"

Phil Gosselin accounted for three of the nine hits surrendered by Nathan Eovaldi in 6 2/3 innings, and Freddie Freeman recorded a pair of hits that at least allowed him to forget that he has gone just 6-for-61 against the Marlins this year. But of the 17 combined hits by these division rivals, the only one that led to a run was the second-inning home run Gattis sent into the left-center field seats on the first pitch of the inning.

"I just wanted to be aggressive with him," Gattis said of Eovaldi. "I didn't want to get caught in between. I didn't want to take any heaters for strikes and I thought that would be my best chance."

Gattis' 21st homer of the season and fourth since Aug. 15 was enough to prevent Wood from dealing with another hard-luck outcome. This marked the 10th time this season that the young southpaw completed at least seven innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer. But it was just the fourth time the Braves won on those occasions.

By taking a pair in the three-game set, the Braves moved back to within six games of the first-place Nationals. They are also just 1 1/2 games back in the battle to secure the National League's second Wild Card entry.

"It's up there," Wood said when asked where this ranked amongst his 31 career starts. "The significance of it is we're in a playoff hunt. That plays a big part in it. But if we weren't in a playoff hunt, it would still be up there."  

Throughout the early days of his career, Wood has displayed a sense of confidence that was validated when he surrendered three consecutive one-out singles to load the bases for top NL Most Valuable Player candidate Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth.

"There's always a competitive fire in [Wood]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That is one of the things you love about him."

The fire burned stronger when Wood retired Stanton with a three-pitch strikeout that feature two well-placed fastballs and a nasty curveball. This set the stage for Casey McGehee, who gained a 3-1 count with the help of a couple of disputable calls, and then looked at a changeup and curveball to complete another strikeout for the fearless hurler.

"It happened pretty fast," Wood said. "It was three pitches to Stanton and then you get to 3-1 and you think, 'Oh God!' Stanton and McGehee are their big RBI guys. So you know you've got to make pitches. I was kind of at the point where I wasn't really going to let them beat me. If I walked them, I walked them and then start over with the next guy. I didn't want either of them to beat me and fortunately tonight it turned our way."

McGehee was surprised to see Wood throw a 3-2 breaking ball.

"Frankly a [breaking ball] was the last thing on my mind," McGehee said. "He had the confidence to throw it. I didn't think he was going to. He made a heck of a pitch in the biggest part of the game for him. So you've got to give him credit."

Wood, who has a 1.86 ERA in his past seven starts, ended his 101-pitch outing with consecutive strikeouts of Reed Johnson and Christian Yelich. This 12-strikeout effort, which matched the one he recorded against the Nationals on Aug. 11, was preserved by Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.

"I would have loved to get back out there, but that's the nature of the beast when you've got the best closer in the game," Wood said.

{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }

Braves exercising caution with reliever Simmons

Out since July 24, righty feels better, but won't throw for at least another week

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ATLANTA -- While the Braves would certainly like to put a healthy and productive Shae Simmons back in their bullpen before the end of the season, they also understand the need to be cautious with the right-handed reliever, who has been sidelined since July 24 with a right shoulder strain.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Simmons will not attempt to begin throwing again for at least another week. The 23-year-old has been shut down since Aug. 20, which is when he arrived for his third rehab appearance for Triple-A Gwinnett with what he described as an "extremely sore" shoulder.

Nearly two weeks later, Simmons feels better. But he realizes that he will not know how much his shoulder has improved until he begins throwing off a mound again.

"My arm feels good, my shoulder, forearm and everything," Simmons said. "Everything feels good, just a little pressure in the same spot. But it isn't anything that is terrible. So I should be back sooner rather than later, I hope."

Given that he experienced a setback approximately one month after going on the disabled list, Simmons realizes he might be required to rest longer before making his next comeback attempt. With this in mind and four weeks remaining in the regular season, he understands there is a chance he will not pitch again this year.

"[Braves trainer Jeff Porter] told me before all of this started, 'With this scenario, most of the time it could be four weeks, but it could take up to six weeks of rest,'" Simmons said. "Now, I guess I'll have to go with the six weeks instead of the four weeks. … I guess it's better to get it taken care of now than to wait and then go into the offseason and it not be any better. Then I'd just come in next year and it would probably be the same scenario."

After making his Major League debut May 31, Simmons produced a 0.96 ERA and limited opponents to a .239 on-base percentage in his first 20 appearances. But he then created reason for concern as he produced a 15.00 ERA and allowed opponents to reach at a .529 clip during the six appearances that followed, leading up to his current disabled list stint.


Kimbrel joins short, elite list with 40th save

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ATLANTA -- Craig Kimbrel joined yet another exclusive club when he notched his Major League-high 40th save to end Friday night's 5-2 win over the Marlins.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kimbrel became just the third Major League pitcher to register 40 or more saves in each of four consecutive seasons. Trevor Hoffman did it twice (1998-2001 and 2004-07) and Francisco Rodriguez matched this accomplishment from 2005-08.

Kimbrel's success this year adds to the accomplishment he achieved last year, when he became the first pitcher in Major League history to record at least 40 saves in each of his first three full seasons.

Kimbrel has successfully converted 90.7 percent of the 197 save opportunities he has had since the start of the 2011 season. His 178 saves during this span are 47 more than any other Major Leaguer over the same period.


Harang labors as Braves fall to Marlins in shutout

Righty lasts 5 2/3 as bats bow to Cosart; Atlanta 1 1/2 back in WC

Harang labors as Braves fall to Marlins in shutout play video for Harang labors as Braves fall to Marlins in shutout

ATLANTA -- Some nights you battle through and win without your best stuff. In his 13 Major League seasons, Aaron Harang has done that plenty.

Saturday night was not one of those times, however, as despite his usual grit and guile, Harang and the Atlanta Braves fell to the Miami Marlins, 4-0, at Turner Field.

"He battled," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "He battled and minimized the damage at times, only giving up single runs."

The loss evened the weekend series, snapped the Braves' three-game winning streak and dropped Atlanta to 1 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final National League Wild Card spot.

Harang (10-9), who fell to 5-6 in his career against the Marlins, went 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits, striking out five and walking three. He made no excuses.

"I was getting ahead early in the count, but they were able to get some timely hits in key situations," he said. "The curveball to [second baseman Donovan] Solano, was just something right over the middle of the plate. You're going to have those days. Obviously, [Jarred] Cosart, he out-pitched me today. He threw the ball well."

Saturday was the third time in four starts that Harang has not pitched at least six innings (something that happened only twice in his first 24 starts). He's lost all three of those starts and is 1-3 with five no-decisions in nine starts since July 19. In seven of those nine games, Atlanta has scored three or fewer runs, and only once has scored as many as four runs.

Saturday night was particularly frustrating, starting with the 0-1 pitch that the light-hitting Solano, hitting .192 (5-for-26) on Miami's nine-game road trip, hammered over the left-field wall for a 1-0 lead. The homer, the first of three hits Solano would have, was the first given up by Harang in three starts and only his third in six August appearances.

Most of the rest of Miami's damage came on timely, well-placed hits.

In the third, Harang was hurt by a two-out walk to Christian Yelich, who came around to score following a pair of seeing-eye hits by Solano and Giancarlo Stanton. Then, in the fifth, he was tagged by a pair of hits, including another RBI single by Solano, with two outs.

Harang pitched out of further trouble in the fifth, after the rally was extended by a fan, who appeared to deflect a foul ball in the crowd away from right fielder Jason Heyward during Miami third baseman Casey McGehee's at-bat. McGehee would walk to load the bases, but Harang retired first baseman Garrett Jones to end the inning.

"That's the thing about this game. You can throw some good pitches, and they hit the ball into the dirt in front of the plate and they don't even make it to the infielder," Harang said. "I felt like they hit some balls that were able to find the hole and had a couple of infield hits in key situations that kept the inning alive."

A walk led to Miami's final run in the sixth that scored on a passed ball, a cross-up with catcher Evan Gattis, for which Harang shouldered the blame.

The Braves, on the other hand were unable to mount any kind of attack against Cosart. Suffice it to say the Atlanta Braves have seen enough of him.

The 24-year-old right-hander, who entered Saturday night with a 12-9 career mark and 3.98 ERA, improved to 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA against the Braves in 2014, throwing seven-plus dominant innings.

Atlanta, which is now 4-5 this season against the Marlins at Turner Field, has been held to one run and 13 hits in 14-plus innings over two starts by Cosart, who gave up only one run and six hits over seven on June 26 as a member of the Houston Astros in a 6-1 loss. Of course, Braves hitters aren't alone in their weariness of Cosart (3-1 with the Marlins, 12-8 overall), as he's pitching to a 1.64 ERA (six earned runs in 33 innings) in five starts since being acquired by Miami at the Trade Deadline and is unbeaten in his last four starts (3-0, one no-decision).

Cosart's cutter was especially devastating.

"Tonight was like your right-handed version of Cliff Lee," said Heyward, who had three of Atlanta's nine hits and two of the seven off Cosart. "A lot of cutters in the zone and a lot of cutters ahead of the zone. If you have a good curveball, everything is hard, it's a tough at-bat."

When the Braves put the ball in play, it seemingly was right at Marlins. After giving up a single to Heyward to open the game, Cosart proceeded to retire the next 10 batters, including striking out four of five, before allowing a Freddie Freeman single with two outs in the fourth.

Atlanta grounded into three double plays.

"When we don't make contact, people talk about us striking out. So it's just part of the game. We're just going through one of those phases where we're grounding into some double plays," said third baseman Chris Johnson. "We don't have a ton of speed guys on the team, so when we do hit ground balls they end up being double plays."

The Braves threatened in the sixth, putting two men on, and the eighth, loading the bases, both times with one out, but they could not cash in. In both innings, shortstop Andrelton Simmons struck out then first baseman Freeman grounded out.

Gonzalez doesn't find fault with the team's effort.

"We got fight," he said. "We had the bases loaded, and that's what you always shoot for, for your guys. You have the right guys at the plate. You might be able to get one or two runs out of there, but it just didn't happen."

Johnson said the Braves better find a way to make it happen against Cosart, who has quickly worn out his welcome with Atlanta.

"It's just something we have to get used to, him being in our division now," he said. "We have to try to get used to it and work out a plan for the cutter."


Wood working toward becoming rotation fixture

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ATLANTA -- Given his choice, Alex Wood would have liked to avoid the six-week bullpen stint he was given to limit his innings and give him a chance to still be available to be a rotation asset down the stretch.

"Everything happens for a reason," Wood said. "I firmly believe that. But at the same time, it's tough going back and forth."

As Wood approaches the end of what is just his second full season at the professional level, he has positioned himself to be a mainstay in Atlanta's rotation for many years to come. The 23-year-old left-hander has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 14 of his 19 starts. Despite the fact that he has posted a 1.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .200 batting average in his past five starts, Wood says he has been battling some mechanical issues that he might need to wait until the offseason to address.

"I've gotten into some bad habits, and I think I can be better than I am now,'" Wood said. " But it's hard to fix them when you're at this point in the season. The last month or so, I've kind of figured out how to make what I'm doing work to the best of my abilities."

Wood is certainly still in the early stages of the learning process. Because he is just two years removed from college, the Braves entered this season planning to limit him to approximately 170-180 innings. When he was on pace to throw more than 200 innings in early May, the decision was made to send him to the bullpen.

Wood will enter Sunday's start against the Marlins with 137 innings. This puts him in line to end the regular season between that 170-180 innings target.

During his relief stint, which lasted from May 4-June 25, Wood lost some feel for his secondary pitches, namely his changeup. But with a little less than a month left in the regular season, he is back where the Braves wanted him to be when they were forced to temporarily move him to the bullpen.

"Every day is just a learning process," Wood said. "You figure out what you need to do and what you don't need to do to be prepared to give your team a chance to win."


Heyward, J. Upton lead attack in back-and-forth tilt

Outfielders combine for four hits, four RBIs as Braves pull away

Heyward, J. Upton lead attack in back-and-forth tilt play video for Heyward, J. Upton lead attack in back-and-forth tilt

ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward's reluctance to return to the leadoff role was influenced by his belief that he would not have as many opportunities to drive in runs. While that may prove true over the course of an entire season, Heyward took advantage of the opportunity he was given to guide the Braves toward a 5-2 win over the Marlins on Friday night at Turner Field.

Heyward's RBI single off left-handed reliever Mike Dunn fueled a three-run seventh inning that proved decisive for the Braves, who have won three straight games and seven of their past 11. This latest victory came with more assistance from Justin Upton, who drilled a two-run homer in the sixth and then provided some cushion with a single that accounted for the final two runs in the seventh.

The victory kept the Braves within six games of the National League East-leading Nationals, and they moved with one game of the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot.

"For me, the changing point was Jason's at-bat against one of the toughest left-handers in the National League, and maybe even in the Major Leagues," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said in reference to Dunn, who entered Friday having limited left-handers to a .184 batting average.

Andrelton Simmons opened the bottom of the seventh with a bunt single, and he advanced to third when pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena followed with a line-drive single that popped out of first baseman Garrett Jones' glove. This prompted the Marlins to call for Dunn to face Heyward, who entered the game batting .159 against left-handed pitchers.

As Heyward has seen left-handed starting pitchers on a more regular basis the past couple weeks, he has gained a comfort that was visible as he fell behind Dunn with a 1-2 count and then fouled off a pair of pitches, before concluding the decisive seven-pitch at-bat with an opposite-field single that raced through to left.

"I was just going up there and trying to keep it simple," Heyward said. "At that point, we're trying to put the ball in play wherever it is and not do too much. Just get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard somewhere. It wasn't a big swing and it wasn't a big hit. It was just something that got us a run."

Upton, who has enhanced his NL Most Valuable Player Award candidacy while batting .354 (17-for-48) with 18 RBIs in his past 12 games, capped the seventh inning with a single that scored Heyward and Emilio Bonifacio, with the assistance of a Marcell Ozuna error. The Braves left fielder's biggest blast of the night was the homer that accounted for the only two runs allowed by Marlins starter Tom Koehler.

Braves starter Ervin Santana seemed destined for an early exit when he walked the bases full with just one out during a 32-pitch first inning. But the veteran right-hander escaped that threat unscathed, and he did not allow the Marlins to advance a runner as far as second base until Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones and Ozuna notched consecutive one-out hits in the sixth inning.

Ozuna scraped the right-field line with a double that scored McGehee in uncontested fashion. Heyward fielded the double and began a relay with Tommy La Stella that led to Evan Gattis applying the tag that denied Jones' bid to also score on the play.

"We made it look pretty easy, but you've got to get two throws off and then have a tag at the plate without [anybody] dropping the ball or throwing the ball anywhere," Gonzalez said. "That was perfect to keep it just a one-run game there."

During each of the first three innings, Koehler allowed the first hitter he faced to reach safely and advance to second base. But the Braves, who went hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position, did not dent the scoreboard until Upton jumped on a high fastball and sent it over the center-field wall in the sixth.

Jordany Valdespin's opposite-field solo shot off David Carpenter in the seventh inning tied the game, but the Braves played small ball in the bottom half of the inning and made Jones pay for not securing Pena's liner.

"We're never out of it, but we definitely just let it get away today," Jones said. "I can't really say it was a mistake. I thought I caught it; must've had some hook spin on it and spun right out of my glove. That's the type of play I should have had it, should have caught it and probably have one or two outs there, and it would have changed the ballgame."

{"content":["injury" ] }

Venters opts for third Tommy John procedure

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ATLANTA -- Instead of avoiding what will be the greatest challenge he has faced in the baseball world, Jonny Venters has decided to attempt to keep his playing career alive by undergoing a third Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

"It never really crossed my mind to retire, to give up and quit," Venters said. "If I was 38, it might be a little different. I'm only 29. So hopefully, I have my age working for me. We'll see. I'm going to give it a shot."

Venters said he made this decision soon after Dr. James Andrews informed him on Thursday that he had yet another tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his left elbow. Andrews had repaired this same ligament via the Tommy John procedure in 2005 and in '13.

"It was saddening to hear the surgery failed," Venters said. "Looking at a third one is obviously not something you plan for. It is what it is. I've talked to my family and my agent and all the guys; I think it's something I want to do."

Even if Venters undergoes the surgery within the next couple of weeks, he seems destined to remain sidelined until at least the start of the 2016 season. It remains to be seen whether the surgery will ever make the ligament strong enough to sustain the violent arm motion Venters produces during his delivery.

Venters plans to talk to Jason Isringhausen, who is one of the few pitchers who have ever returned to the Major League level after undergoing a third TJ procedure. The Braves veteran fortunately already had a chance to spend some time with Isringhausen over the past couple of years.

It would have been hard to find fault with Venters, had he simply opted to walk away after Andrews delivered the harsh news. The left-handed reliever needed more than the customary 12 months to return from his first TJ procedure. Then, while facing even greater odds during the latest comeback attempt, Venters never reached a point where he could throw in uninhibited fashion off the mound.

When Venters had what proved to be his final setback last week in Pittsburgh, he was 15 months removed from surgery and still struggling to throw harder than 80 mph. In other words, he sustained this tear long before he got close to regaining the 94-mph power sinker that he displayed as he stood as one of the game's premier relievers during the 2010 and '11 seasons.

"I think [Dr. Andrews] was surprised that it failed so early," Venters said. "It wasn't like I was throwing in games or anything like that. I think it was one of those things that it was going to fail no matter what. I think we did everything right with the training staff and my therapy and throwing program. I think we did everything for it to succeed. I just think it was one of those things where it was going to fail no matter what."

Venters posted a 1.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .190 batting average over the Major League-high 164 appearances he made during the 2010 and '11 seasons. He struggled with his command during the first half of the '12 season and spent some time on the disabled list with elbow discomfort in July. When Venters returned after the All-Star break, he posted a 1.71 ERA during what proved to be the only 26 appearances he has made since that DL stint.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Braves eye familiar faces as September callups

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ATLANTA -- Christian Bethancourt has created reason to wonder whether he could begin serving as Atlanta's starting catcher as early as next year. But for this season's final month, the talented young catcher will simply do whatever necessary to help the Braves in their pennant chase.

Bethancourt will headline the list of players who will be promoted to the Majors once the Braves are able to expand their roster on Monday. The other most likely candidates for a September promotion are outfielders Jose Constanza, Joey Terdoslavich and Todd Cunningham; and pitchers Chasen Shreve, Gus Schlosser and Juan Jaime.

Because Triple-A Gwinnett's season does not conclude until Monday, the Braves could bring a couple of players up on Monday and the others on Tuesday.

Bethancourt entered Friday having posted a .383 average with three homers and a 1.026 OPS in his past 12 games for Gwinnett. Though he is primarily known for the defensive skills he showed while serving as Atlanta's primary catcher during the early portion of July, the 22-year-old prospect has made strides offensively both of the past two years.

With the Braves expected to at least shop Evan Gattis to an American League team this winter, Bethancourt could use the playing time he gets over the next few weeks to better acquaint himself for a role that could soon be his.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Minor's mastery continues with latest gem

Lefty also produces at plate as Braves keep pace for Wild Card

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NEW YORK -- Mike Minor entered August in the midst of a skid that gave the Braves no choice but to at least temporarily remove him from their starting rotation. But four weeks later, the rejuvenated left-hander finds himself approaching September with legit reason to believe he will be a tremendous asset down the stretch.

After flirting with a no-hitter last week in Cincinnati, Minor extended his dominance on Thursday night at Citi Field. The left-hander carried a gem into the eighth inning and produced a pair of hits that propelled the Braves to a 6-1 win over the Mets.

"At one point in the game, he was everything," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He was not only pitching well, he was our offense for [seven] innings."

This was certainly a night to remember for Minor, who carried a two-hit shutout into the eighth inning and also played a part in the first two runs scored by the Braves. He surrendered just four hits and kept the Mets scoreless until Travis d'Arnaud doubled and scored on Eric Campbell's single in the eighth.

"He just kept pounding the zone," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "It was fun to be back there with some of the swings they were taking."

The swings Minor was inducing were not as impressive as those he took while matching the career-high two-hit performance he recorded at this same stadium on May 25, 2013, which was also the day he belted the first of his two career homers. After driving in the game's first run with a two-out single in the third inning, he fueled a two-run eighth inning with a double that put him in position to score on a triple by Emilio Bonifacio, who capped his four-hit night with an RBI single in the three-run ninth.

After Bonifcacio tripled, Freddie Freeman chased Mets starter Jonathan Niese with his eighth-inning RBI single. Niese was undone by what Minor did on the mound and at the plate.

"We all know what he's capable of doing on the mound," Laird said. "He's a good athlete. He has a good idea of what he wants to do in the box. He's one of those guys who takes pride in trying to help himself in a game."

Minor's do-it-all performance enabled the Braves to conclude a 10-game road trip with a winning record. After opening this three-game set in New York with their third straight loss, they recorded a pair of wins that repaired their psyche and their standing in the postseason races.

The Braves are now six games behind the Nationals in the National League East. They sit two games behind the front-running Cardinals in the Wild Card race and 1 1/2 games behind the Giants, who are currently positioned to earn the second Wild Card spot.

"The last [13] games we have played good baseball," said Gonzalez, whose club will welcome the Marlins to Turner Field on Friday.

Five days removed from bidding adieu to his no-hit bid against the Reds with two outs in the eighth inning, Minor entered Thursday night's eighth having allowed just two hits. After he was forced to make an abrupt exit following Campbell's single, he watched David Carpenter prevent the Mets from producing any further damage.

This marked the second straight start that Minor allowed just one run while pitching into the eighth inning. Since having a start skipped during the first week of this month, Minor has produced a 2.33 ERA in the four starts that have followed. In other words, he has not looked like the same guy who posted a 7.33 ERA and surrendered 12 home runs in the 10 starts he made from June 10-Aug.1.

"I do feel like I've turned the corner with pitches and hitting spots and attacking hitters," Minor said. "I do feel confident. I don't feel that little guy in the back of my head is saying, 'Don't give up the home run' anymore. I feel like I'm attacking guys and going right after them."

Now armed with a sinker that he gained a better feel for during his short time out of the rotation this month, Minor did not allow the Mets a hit until Lucas Duda sent an opposite-field liner over Andrelton Simmons' head to begin the bottom of the fifth. The only other hit he allowed before the eighth inning was a seventh-inning leadoff single recorded by Curtis Granderson, who was retired via a double play.

"It's just nice to see him come out and get some good results because now he's just building and building with more confidence," Laird said. "Today, I don't think we threw a changeup at any point in the game. The sinker was diving so good and the curveball was working. We mixed in some sliders and just kind of moved the four-seamer. He was in complete control of that game."


Simmons continues to dazzle with latest gem at short

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NEW YORK -- When asked what he considers to be the best of Andrelton Simmons' defensive plays, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has repeatedly said, "The next one."

Through his first three seasons at the Major League level, Simmons has routinely trumped some of his gems that originally seemed impossible to top. But when accounting for both the situation and degree of difficulty, it will be quite challenging for the Braves shortstop to best what he did to end the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 3-2 win over the Mets.

"He's unbelievable, always making plays for us," Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran said. "Every time you don't think he's going to make the play, that is when he makes it."

With a runner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, d'Arnaud sent a sharp grounder through the left side of the infield. Once it escaped third baseman Phil Gosselin's reach, it seemed destined to result in a game-tying single that Justin Upton would glove in left field. But, all the while Simmons was ranging to his right.

"When it went by [Gosselin], it was just how am I going to get it over [to first base]," Simmons said. "That was the fastest way I could think of right there."

With momentum pulling him toward the right field line, Simmons backhanded the ball in the outfield grass and then hopped off his left leg. As he was in the air, he managed to rocket an accurate throw that first baseman Freddie Freeman scooped to record the out in uncontested fashion.

"As soon as the ball gets in my glove, I'm looking for him," Simmons said. "So as soon as I get in the air I got him locked in. If I don't, then I'm in trouble because I'm throwing into space and hoping it falls in the right spot. … I knew it was on target, I was just hoping it didn't take a bad or weird hop."

d'Arnaud was not necessarily shocked by the incredible development. One inning earlier, Simmons had backhanded one of his grounders in the infield dirt before making a throw to first base to record the out.

"When he made the play, I saw in the dugout that he was out and I said, 'I'd like to go out and challenge it as best I can, but I know he's out so all I'm doing is delaying the game a little bit,'" Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Simmons won his first Gold Glove Award last year and he entered Wednesday having compiled a Major League-high 62 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of the 2013 season. No other shortstop had more than 25.

Simmons' greatness has led many to compare him to the great Ozzie Smith, who played alongside Braves first-base coach and former third baseman Terry Pendleton for many years in St. Louis.

Pendleton said arm strength is the one thing that would have prevented Smith from matching what Simmons did on Wednesday night.

"If they are playing in the same spot, yes Ozzie Smith could get to that ball," Pendleton said. "But Ozzie might not have been able to throw the ball. He'd have gotten to the ball, but I don't know if he'd have been able to throw it because he played from 1985 until the day he retired with a torn rotator cuff. It's safe to say he would have gotten to the ball, but I don't know if he'd have had the arm strength to do what the kid did."

It would have been difficult for any shortstop to match Simmons' latest gem. But Gonzalez is certainly not ready to make any guarantee that this latest will indeed remain the greatest.

"How many times have we said that and there is another one?" Gonzalez said. "Maybe this one wasn't as graceful as some of the others. But the situation with two outs and the tying run at third … I'll stick to my guns with that one. There will be something else that we'll sit here and talk about because he's a special guy."


Braves win behind Teheran, highlight-reel defense

Simmons saves run with clutch play after righty's strong outing

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NEW YORK -- Craig Kimbrel was credited with a save that Andrelton Simmons seemingly deserved, and Julio Teheran's determined effort was backed by the small ball that the Braves played during the third inning of Wednesday night's 3-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field.

"I'm just trying to win," Simmons said. "Right now, we just need to win ballgames, however we can. We've got to grind it out right now."

Simmons displayed his determination and great athleticism with a game-saving play that likely ranks as the most clutch of the countless defensive gems he has created during his young career. The 24-year-old shortstop seemingly defied realism yet again when he robbed Travis d'Arnaud of what seemed destined to be a game-tying single with two outs in the eighth inning.

"He just continues to amaze," said Jason Heyward, who was among the many Braves who sat in the clubhouse after the game and continued to marvel at Simmons' latest defensive gem.

En route to snapping their three-game losing streak, the Braves saw Freddie Freeman further frustrate Mets pitchers with a key double that backed Teheran, who allowed just three hits over 6 1/3 innings. But the contributions of Freeman and Teheran might have gone to waste had Simmons not completed his magic.

After surrendering a Juan Lagares single that cut the Braves' lead to 1 in the eighth, right-handed reliever Jordan Walden induced a Lucas Duda double play that put Curtis Granderson on third base with two outs. d'Arnaud followed with a sharp grounder that left fielder Justin Upton seemed destined to field until Simmons ranged to his right,made a backhanded stop in the outfield grass and then ended the inning with a strong throw that beat d'Arnaud to first base in uncontested fashion.

"I thought the ball was through," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I was thinking the game was tied, what are we going to do with Walden? Maybe take him out and bring [Anthony] Varvaro in or whatever. Then all of the sudden, he makes a tremendous play."

Teheran's effort was not completely preserved until Kimbrel wiggled out of the trouble he created by allowing the ninth inning to begin with an Eric Campbell single and Matt den Dekker walk. The Braves closer stared at trouble and escaped it when Kirk Nieuwenhuis popped out to end the game.

This stress-filled conclusion seemed to be par for the course for the Braves, who had started their three-game skid after winning for the seventh time in eight games on Friday night. They sit 6 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the National League East while staying 1 1/5 games within the second NL Wild Card spot.

"Every time I go out there it is an important game for me and my team," Teheran said. "All I try to do is do my best and I know my teammates are going to do their part."

Battling some fatigue that might have been a product of the humidity he encountered during last week's start in Cincinnati, Teheran did not have his best command. But the only blemish on his line came courtesy of the solo shot that he surrendered to Wilmer Flores with two outs in the second inning. After surrendering Flores' third career homer, Teheran retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced.

The Braves gave Teheran all the necessary support after Freeman's opposite-field double put runners at second and third with just one out in the third inning. Justin Upton followed with an RBI groundout that scored Phil Gosselin, who had reached with a bunt single. Shortstop Ruben Tejada's inability to cleanly field Evan Gattis' two-out grounder scored Freeman with an insurance run.

Gosselin's bunt and the two grounders produced by Upton and Gattis accounted for the small ball portion of the inning. But the inning was highlighted by the double recorded by Freeman, who has batted .356 (47-for-132) against the Mets since the start of the 2013 season.

Jason Heyward got the Braves rolling when he began the game with an opposite-field home run off fellow suburban Atlanta native Zack Wheeler. This was Heyward's fourth leadoff homer of the season and the second surrendered by Wheeler, who was charged with two earned runs and four hits in seven innings.

"He's got good stuff, and tonight is the best I've seen him pitch since he's been in the big leagues," Heyward said of Wheeler. "He pounded the zone for the most part. His curveball, he was able to throw it for strikes. His changeup, he was able to throw it for strikes. He's really tough when he can do that."


Venters has torn UCL, faces third Tommy John surgery

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NEW YORK -- After spending the past few months battling the frustration that came courtesy of his attempt to return from a second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Jonny Venters received some jarring news on Thursday, when Dr. James Andrews informed him that he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow for a third time.

If Venters decides he wants to attempt to pitch again, he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery for a third time. The odds of returning would be even slimmer than those the left-handed reliever faced during this latest comeback attempt. But with this startling revelation still fresh, Venters' agent BB Abbott said his client is "collecting information and weighing alternatives."

"You hate for players to get hurt," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "[Venters] is a young guy. He's not even 30 years old. It happens all the time. But when it happens to one of your guys you feel bad for him."

When Venters arrived at Spring Training this season, thoughts of him returning to Atlanta's bullpen at some point in June were tempered by the reality that many other pitchers had previously struggled in their attempt to return from a second Tommy John surgery.

Venters' attempt to make a successful return never really gained momentum. He experienced some elbow discomfort most of this summer and he seemed to become even more discouraged after he was cleared to begin throwing off a mound in July. He recently estimated that his fastball was traveling in the neighborhood of 80 miles per hour.

"We couldn't get him past the hump," Gonzalez said. "We really didn't ramp him up that much. He was playing catch and [completing] some side sessions. The most he ever cranked up was at 50, 60 or 70 percent. There was always discomfort there."

As the past few weeks elapsed, Venters never came close to looking like he did when he was throwing 95-mph power sinkers just a few years ago. He posted a 1.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .190 batting average over the Major League-high 164 appearances he combined to make during the 2010 and '11 seasons.

Venters struggled with his command during the first half of the 2012 season and spent some time on the disabled list in July. When he returned after the All-Star break, he produced a 1.71 ERA during what proved to be the only 26 appearances he has made since that DL stint.

After battling elbow discomfort throughout Spring Training the next year, Venters underwent his second Tommy John surgery in May 2013, approximately eight years after undergoing his first.

Now Venters will have to decide whether he wants to follow in the footsteps of Jason Isringhausen, Jose Rijo and the few other pitchers who have attempted to return after having the elbow's UCL surgically repaired for a third time.


Johnson gets break amid hitting woes

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NEW YORK -- Mired in a slump that has extended nearly three full weeks, Chris Johnson had no problem with the fact that he was not in Wednesday night's starting lineup. The unselfish Braves third baseman came to Citi Field well aware of the fact that he had previously struggled against Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler.

"I have no problem with that," Johnson said. "If I'm not going good against a starting pitcher out there or I'm struggling or whatever, whatever we have to do. I just want to win."

Given that he had notched two hits in 17 previous at-bats against Wheeler, Johnson knew the odds of breaking out of his funk on Wednesday were not favorable. But as September approaches, he remains hopeful that he will produce a strong finish to a season that obviously been much more trying than his surprising 2013 season.

Johnson exceeded all expectations when he batted .321 -- the National League's second-best mark -- with a .358 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage last year. These numbers trumped the career averages -- .276/.315/.430 -- he had carried into the season.

But as Johnson has progressed through his second season with the Braves, he has produced numbers much more similar to those career marks he had produced from 2009-2012. He entered Wednesday hitting .271 with a .296 OBP. His disappointing OBP is a product of the alarming strikeout ratios that he has produced while trying to hit for more power this season.

Although he has attempted to generate more power, Johnson has produced a career-low .375 slugging percentage.

"I've been trying to work on pulling the ball a little bit more and kind of driving balls a little more this year," Johnson said. "I think that has gotten me into pulling off some balls and getting first-pitch strikes and fouling balls off because I'm trying to do too much. Last year, I would just take my hits.

"I just never really got big [with my swing] last year. I want to find that happy medium for my game. I think I've got power. I just have to learn how to do what I'm really good at and use that power."

After striking out in just 21.2 percent of his plate appearances last year, Johnson has been retired via strikes in 26.1 percent of the time this year. Once again, this year's number is closer to the 24.7 percent that he produced from 2009-12.

As Johnson's strikeout total has risen to an already career-high 136, his walk rate has decreased from 5.3 percent to 3.3 percent this year. His 30.7 plate appearances/walk ratio stands as the NL's highest.

"There is only one stat that has absolutely killed me, and it's the strikeouts," Johnson said. "I'm a firm believer that if you put the ball in play you have a better opportunity to get hits. I've just struck out too much. It's something I've got to figure out."


Bats held in check as Braves edged by Mets

'Real streaky' club hits into four double plays to drop four out of six

Bats held in check as Braves edged by Mets play video for Bats held in check as Braves edged by Mets

NEW YORK -- Though they might have already buried themselves too deep to overcome their deficit in the National League East race, the Braves know they could easily claim a National League Wild Card spot if they manage to produce an extended stretch of success -- something that has eluded them for nearly two months.

Since notching a season-best nine-game winning streak that concluded on July 6, the Braves have lost 19 of the 44 games that have followed. They have also managed to go 51-57 since winning 17 of this season's first 24 games.

So, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that the Braves have now lost four of six since notching a five-game winning streak exactly one week after snapping an eight-game losing streak. Their latest setback occurred on Tuesday night when another frustration-filled night for the offense resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field.

"We're real streaky," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "We either get on a roll or we get on a roll the other way. It's something we've been trying to figure out all year."

Johnson accounted for two of the four double plays that hindered the Braves' bid to overcome the decisive two-run home run Juan Lagares hit off Alex Wood in the fourth inning. Wood minimized the damage to three runs as he shook off some rust during the early innings and ended up allowing just five hits over seven innings.

But Lagares' fourth home run of the season forced Wood to deal with yet another hard-luck loss. The Braves have won just twice during the current six-start stretch within which Wood has produced a 2.23 ERA.

"You can take positives and negatives from anything," Wood said. "But at the end of the day, we're only here for one reason, and that's to win as many games down the stretch as we can. When you lose when you go out there, you can't help but take responsibility because you're the guy with the ball in his hand."

While Wood continues questioning why he threw a 3-2 changeup when he knew Lagares was going to be aggressive, he certainly bore just a small percentage of the blame for the Braves, who sit 7 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East and within 1 1/2 games of grabbing the second Wild Card spot.

"We've just got to keep playing," Justin Upton said. "Results are results. There's nothing we can do about that. We just need to continue to play better. We need to continue to play better baseball and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves."

Though the offense as a whole has continued to be inconsistent of late, Upton has impressed as he has batted .417 with a 1.213 OPS over the past nine games. He opened this three-game set with a three-hit performance that provided Wood some support.

Upton teamed with Freddie Freeman to notch consecutive two-out doubles in the fourth inning. He also singled to begin the seventh inning and scored on a Tommy La Stella single that followed Evan Gattis grounding into a double play.

Those two runs accounted for all that was allowed by Dillon Gee, who completed 6 2/3 innings. Gee had allowed four earned runs or more in five of his previous seven outings.

Johnson grounded into his first double play of the night after Upton walked to begin the second inning. The Braves third baseman, who has grounded into a team-high 20 double plays, also hit into a double play after Upton singled to begin the ninth against Jenrry Mejia.

Before tallying a pair of runs through Tuesday's first seven innings, the Braves had not scored more than one run through the first eight innings of any of their previous three contests.

"We had chances," Johnson said. "It's part of the game. When you put the ball in play, sometimes you hit it right at them and they turn double plays. Sometimes, you pick bad times to hit ground balls. I got a couple of sinkers down and they were good pitches. That's kind of what happens when you swing at those … you get ground balls and I'm not a speed demon."

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Seven Braves prospects set to compete in AFL

Seven Braves prospects set to compete in AFL play video for Seven Braves prospects set to compete in AFL

NEW YORK -- Kyle Wren, Edward Salcedo and Aaron Northcraft headline the list of seven Braves prospects who will compete in this year's Arizona Fall League. They will be part of the Peoria Javelinas club that will employ Triple-A Gwinnett's Garey Ingram as its hitting coach.

Jose Peraza has established himself as Atlanta's most intriguing prospect this season and he was a candidate to play in the AFL. But the speedy infielder is instead expected to spend this winter playing in his native Venezuela, where he can be part of a longer season and compile more plate appearances.

Wren has batted .282 with a .699 OPS over 128 combined games for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi this year. The speedy outfielder, who is the son of Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, has been successful with 44 of 58 stolen-base attempts.

Once heralded as a top prospect, Salcedo has struggled at the plate and provided reason to wonder where he would fit from a defensive perspective. The 23-year-old former shortstop has spent most of the past two months playing the outfield. He entered Tuesday hitting .211 with 10 homers and a .655 OPS for Triple-A Gwinnett.

Northcraft opened some eyes when he posted a 2.88 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts) for Mississippi this year. But since being promoted to Gwinnett, the 24-year-old right-hander has posted a 6.23 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts).

The other Braves prospects scheduled to play in the AFL include infielder Daniel Castro and right-handed pitchers Brandon Cunniff, Nate Hyatt and Ryne Harper.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Venters shut down; Shae's return on hold

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NEW YORK -- While Shae Simmons still hopes to eventually rejoin Atlanta's bullpen this season, Jonny Venters has been forced to at least temporarily halt his bid to return from a second Tommy John surgery.

After Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced Tuesday afternoon that Venters' rehab program was being shut down, general manager Frank Wren indicated that the club still believes Simmons simply needs rest to overcome the shoulder discomfort that put him on the disabled list after his July 24 appearance.

Simmons was bidding to join Atlanta's bullpen last week. But after he did not record an out in his second rehab appearance for Triple-A Gwinnett, the rookie reliever was shut down again.

Wren said he did not believe the Braves medical staff believed there was any reason for Simmons to undergo an MRI exam.

"They just think it's a little tender and not quite ready yet, but nothing major," Wren said.

Thoughts of Venters potentially serving as a reliable bullpen piece this year seemed to fade as he spent the past month battling elbow discomfort. But it was not until Tuesday that the Braves essentially ended any lingering hope that Venters might at least experience a feel-good moment by pitching in at least one game this year.

While in Pittsburgh last week, Venters cut one of his bullpen sessions short. After he experienced more elbow discomfort while playing catch in Cincinnati this past weekend, the Braves decided to send him to see Dr. James Andrews, who performed the elbow surgery on Venters in 2005 and again last year.

"Maybe the second time around, it just takes a little longer," Gonzalez said. "I told him to just keep plugging away."

After making 230 appearances -- one shy of the Major League-leading total -- from 2010-2012, Venters underwent his second Tommy John surgery and missed all of the '13 season. Despite understanding the comeback odds that were stacked against Venters, the Braves still took the commendable route by giving the veteran left-handed reliever a one-year, $1.63 million deal that matched his salary from the previous season.

{"content":["replay" ] }

Braves lose replay challenge in fourth inning vs. Mets

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NEW YORK -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez gambled and lost when he challenged a close play at second base during the fourth inning of Tuesday night's game against the Mets at Citi Field.

Gonzalez requested a review after Travis d'Arnaud doubled to begin the bottom of the fourth inning against Alex Wood. The Braves skipper took a chance that d'Arnaud had lost contact with the second-base bag as he slid head first while attempting to avoid the tag Tommy La Stella applied after receiving Justin Upton's throw from second base.

Replays showed that d'Arnaud's right hand did come off the bag. But it was not clear whether his legs were off the bag at the same moment. Thus after a review that lasted two minutes and 39 seconds, the umpires revealed that call stood.

Juan Lagares followed with a two-run home run that gave the Mets a 3-1 lead.

The Braves have been successful with 19 of the 28 replay reviews they have requested.

{"content":["replay" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Bethancourt collects three hits with Triple-A Gwinnett

Bethancourt collects three hits with Triple-A Gwinnett play video for Bethancourt collects three hits with Triple-A Gwinnett

Catcher Christian Bethancourt returned to Triple-A Gwinnett's lineup Monday after spending a week on the disabled list due to a bruised left hand he suffered when he was hit by a foul tip. Tuesday, the Braves' No. 3 prospect collected three hits and homered to lead Gwinnett to a 7-1 victory against Durham.

Bethancourt, ranked No. 80 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, finished the night 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. His home run was his eighth of the season and third in the last three weeks.

Center fielder Todd Cunningham, the Braves' No. 18 prospect, went 2-for-3 with two runs, two walks and a stolen base.

In 86 games with Gwinnett this season, Bethancourt is hitting .273/.296/.404. He also spent a few weeks in the Major Leagues, serving as the Braves catcher while Evan Gattis was on the disabled list in July. He hit .240/.283/.260 in 13 games.

Bethancourt is expected to return to Atlanta when the Minor League season ends and Major League rosters expand next week.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Onus on Braves to rise up for stretch run

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ATLANTA -- Given the fact that they're less than three weeks removed from an eight-game losing streak, the Braves are obviously in a better state than they were earlier this month. But as they prepare to enter the final week of August, they still have not provided a clear picture of what September might bring.

With that being said, the Braves are also just three years removed from proving that it does not necessarily matter how much optimism you carry into September. More important is the level of optimism created as the regular season's final four weeks unfold.

In order to overcome this year's flurry of disappointments, the Braves will need to end this season much differently than they did in 2011, when they squandered a 9 1/2-game National League Wild Card lead that they had owned as late as Aug. 25. They currently sit eight games behind the Nationals in the NL East race. While its hopes of defending the division crown might now be bordering on the unrealistic, Atlanta is just one game behind the Giants in the battle to secure the NL's second and final Wild Card berth.

The Braves are also just three games behind the Cardinals, who own the NL Wild Card lead. But it should be remembered that Atlanta does not own the tiebreaker against St. Louis or San Francisco.

Here are some storylines to follow as the Braves attempt to secure a postseason berth:

Is Atlanta pointed in the right direction?
The Braves have gone 10-7 since their eight-game losing streak and 7-3 since losing a home series to the Dodgers two weeks ago. It seemed like they were headed in the right direction when they won their fifth straight game on Tuesday. But then they stumbled through the final two innings of a three-game series in Pittsburgh, and then saw their maddening lineup go silent yet again during most of this past weekend in Cincinnati.

The Braves scored in just six of the final 30 innings played against the Reds, who had produced a 6.17 ERA in the process of losing nine of their past 10 entering Friday. With back-to-back losses on Saturday and Sunday, Atlanta lost a prime opportunity to escape the path of mediocrity it has followed while going 51-56 dating back to April 29. During this 107-game span, the Braves have averaged 3.81 runs, which ranks 11th in the NL.

Will Upton continue to be a significant influence?
While some have questioned whether Justin Upton is making himself a legit NL MVP Award candidate (1.029 OPS in his past 24 games since July 30), Jason Heyward is the most valuable player the Braves put on the field on a daily basis because of his offensive/defensive mix. With that being said, Upton has been as influential as any Atlanta player from an offensive perspective since the start of last year.

J-Up makes braves go
Streak Record BA/HR/OPS
4/1/13-4/18/13 13-2 .328/9/1.256
7/26/13-8/16/13 18-2 .392/7/1.234
3/31/14-4/27/14 17-7 .330/7/1.031
6/27/14-7/5/14 9-0 .273/1/.799

Minus that nine-game winning streak earlier this year, the Braves' best streaks have coincided with Upton's. As he went hitless during the final two days in Cincinnati, Atlanta's offense totaled three runs, two of which scored during Sunday's ninth inning. If the Braves are going to finish this season strong, they might need Upton to end it much like he started the past two.

Is Minor truly back?
Hours after the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed, it was revealed that the Braves had been shopping B.J. Upton. Unless you are of the opinion that "the sun came up" is newsworthy on daily basis, this obviously did not merit any surprise. But a disturbing side note to this rumor came from the fact that the Braves were thinking about using Mike Minor to be the piece that would lure teams to agree to what would have been a bad-contract-for-bad-contract deal.

This has certainly not been a season to remember for Minor, whose troubles began when an internal procedure pushed him a month behind schedule entering Spring Training. But since getting a chance to clear his head as his start was skipped during this month's first week, he has produced three strong outings and looked like the dependable lefty he was from July 2012 through the end of last year.

There's no doubt the Braves would like to part ways the approximately $50 million still owed B.J. Upton through the end of 2017. But to have done so at the expense of Minor would have likely drawn ire for many years to come.

Will this be a September to remember for Fredi?
This has been a challenging season to say the least for manager Fredi Gonzalez, who bid adieu to two starting pitchers (Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy) in Spring Training and entered this season with the task of placing Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton back in his lineup for a second straight year. While the plug was pulled on Uggla after the All-Star break, Gonzalez still had to deal with the consequences of having the frustrated and disgruntled veteran stay within his clubhouse for two months after being benched in early May.

While the consequences of the Upton deal will likely need to be addressed during the offseason, Gonzalez does at least have the benefit of occasionally playing Emilio Bonifacio in center field. The skipper has said he would likely shy away from using Phil Gosselin in left field unless he's forced to do so. But Gosselin has been taking fly balls in the outfield during batting practice, and he made a late-inning appearance there in Thursday's blowout win in Cincinnati.

Given what happened three years ago, Gonzalez might be more apt to pull the trigger on the decision to place Gosselin in left field, move Justin Upton to the right and use Heyward as his center fielder. Or maybe he will continue showing patience with the hope that B.J. Upton suddenly erupts like he did at the end of the 2012 season, when he convinced the Braves to give him a franchise-record contract.

Whatever happens, these next few weeks are shaping up to be quite interesting for the Braves.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Graham offers Braves options in role on mound

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Livermore (Calif.) High School graduate J.R. Graham was his team's MVP in his senior year. He hit .418 with 20 RBIs. After winning a host of local and state awards, Graham chose to attend Santa Clara University, where he was a two-way player, pitching and playing infield and outfield for the Broncos in his three years there. He showed enough velocity to pitch wherever needed, starting and even closing during his tenure at the Jesuit university. In his junior year in 2011, Graham averaged only 0.68 walks per nine innings.

After Graham graduated from Livermore, the Oakland Athletics liked him enough to select him in the 46th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. But it was the fourth-round selection by the Atlanta Braves in 2011 that convinced him to become a professional pitcher.

The right-handed-pitching Graham is 24 years old and is No. 11 on the Braves' Top 20 Prospects list.

Graham does not fit the recent trend of bigger-than-life physical pitchers. In fact, he's 6 feet and he weighs just 195 pounds. Graham's strong arm is really a surprise. He has little difficulty reaching the mid-90s on his fastball and can hit 100 mph upon occasion.

Graham pitched for the Braves' Rookie-level Danville club in the Appalachian League to begin his career. He threw 57 2/3 innings, starting eight of the 13 games in which he appeared. Graham had a very fine 1.72 ERA and a WHIP of 1.13.

The following year, Graham pitched at both Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi. He had a great campaign once again, pitching exclusively as a starter and throwing 148 combined innings. Graham finished the year with a 2.80 ERA and a record of 12-2. He was named Atlanta's Organizational Pitcher of the Year.

Things changed a bit for Graham in 2013. A shoulder strain shut him down from mid-May until the end of the year.

This season, Graham has returned to Double-A Mississippi. Showing he had recovered from his shoulder woes, he had an ERA of 1.86 in five April starts. Graham was selected to the Southern League All-Star Game, where I saw him pitch this past July in Chattanooga, Tenn. He threw two-thirds of an inning, yielding a run on two hits. Graham gave up a home run to Scott Schebler of the Dodgers' organization.

While injury risk still lingers with any pitcher that has been shut down with shoulder issues, Graham did not require surgery during his time on the disabled list in 2013. When I saw him, he was throwing free and easy. Graham has a very reliable slider in the mid-80s, and an improving changeup accompanies his sinking fastball to form a repertoire that serves him well. He can use those pitches as part of the rotation or the bullpen. Graham pounds the lower portion of the strike zone, inducing enough ground balls to get out of trouble if needed.

Graham has pitched with good command and control as a professional in the Braves' organization. Mirroring his low collegiate walk rate, Graham has been able to keep his walk rate below three per nine innings for most of his Minor League career. If there is any real hiccup that may cause concern, it comes when he misses with his pitches and gets the ball up in the zone or hangs a slider. Graham can get hit hard at times. He can also escape trouble quickly by throwing his late-breaking sinker.

Graham's ability to keep hitters off balance with his fastball-slider combination is a factor that could hasten his advancement to the big leagues. Mature and confident on the mound, he has the ability to retain the same arm angle and repeat his delivery consistently from pitch to pitch. This year, left-handed batters are really scuffling against Graham's offerings, hitting only .226. Conversely, righties are hitting at a .306 clip.

Given Graham's sharp command and good control, and his experience in multiple pitching roles, Atlanta has the luxury of being able to use his high-powered fastball and secondary pitches as a starter or reliever, depending upon the team's needs.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Harang falters in fourth during loss to Reds

Righty makes mental mistake in frame; ninth-inning rally falls short

Harang falters in fourth during loss to Reds play video for Harang falters in fourth during loss to Reds

CINCINNATI -- Aaron Harang pinned this loss on himself.

The veteran right-hander made a critical mental mistake by not covering first base on a ball hit down the first-base line in what became a three-run fourth inning for the Reds as Cincinnati beat the Braves, 5-3, in the series finale on Sunday at Great American Ball Park. Trailing by two after scoring two runs in the ninth, Atlanta loaded the bases, but Justin Upton grounded into a fielder's choice to end the game.

With the Nationals' win over the Giants, the Braves find themselves a season-high eight games behind Washington in the National League East while remaining one game behind San Francisco for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Harang was cruising until the fourth, when Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Following a lineout to left by Devin Mesoraco, Jay Bruce hit a sharp bouncer down the first-base line that Freddie Freeman grabbed and looked to toss to the bag, but no one was at first to take the throw.

The next batter, Ryan Ludwick, hit a sinking liner to right that was caught on a dive by Jason Heyward, but Frazier tagged and scored.

The next two batters, Brayan Pena and Zack Cozart, hit RBI singles to make it 3-0.

"It's something as small as covering first, which I've done thousands of times in my career, and the one time you don't do it, things come unraveled," said Harang, who pitched for the Reds from 2003-10 and lost to his former club for the first time in five starts. "I thought when Jay hit that ball, the way Freddie was going after it, I just assumed it was foul, so I kind of broke down. And by the time I get started again, I'm not going to beat him to first.

"I take the blame for the whole thing, because if I cover first like I routinely do, the next guy flies out to right, the inning's over and no runs score."

Harang got into another bases-loaded jam in the sixth. David Carpenter came on in relief and got Cozart to ground to third, but Atlanta couldn't complete the 5-4-3 double play and Bruce scored to make it 4-0.

Cincinnati tacked on another run in the seventh on a Todd Frazier home run to left off reliever David Hale.

The Braves didn't go quietly, though.

Atlanta got on the board on back-to-back doubles by Evan Gattis and Tommy La Stella against Reds starter Alfredo Simon in the seventh. They also scored two more in the ninth on a solo homer by Gattis off Reds reliever Logan Ondrusek and an RBI single by Jason Heyward off Jonathan Broxton.

But Braves hitters squandered other chances, such as in the eighth, when Atlanta put two runners on with nobody out to start the inning but came away empty handed. Freeman grounded into a fielder's choice, and the next two batters, Upton and Chris Johnson, struck out against Cincinnati reliever Jumbo Diaz.

With two outs in the ninth and the Reds clinging to a 5-3 advantage, the Braves got the tying run to the plate in Phil Gosselin. Broxton helped Atlanta's cause by walking both Gosselin and Freeman to load the bases and place the tying run at second, but Upton couldn't deliver.

The Braves went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, and in the final three games of the series, combined to go 3-for-22 in that situation. They left 10 runners on base on Sunday and stranded 38 over the four-game series.

"That's just baseball, man," La Stella said. "It's one of those things where you can't pick and choose, unfortunately, when you're going to have your knocks. Ideally, you'd like to have them all come with runners in scoring position, but all you can do is put together a good at-bat and get good wood on it, and whatever happens, happens."

"We put up a good fight and we had the right guys at the plate at the right time," Freeman said. "We've been good; you can't really get on us, we fought all game, put up nine, 10 hits and had a lot of opportunities. It was just one of those days, and in the last inning we just didn't get the big hit. We're not going to win every game, but we gave a good fight today."

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was pleased with the fight his club showed even though he wasn't pleased with the outcome.

"I feel like we didn't lose the game," he said. "I feel like we just ran out of outs."

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Gosselin, La Stella learning together in Majors

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CINCINNATI -- On April 27, 2010, Phil Gosselin hit a grand slam to help the University of Virginia beat Coastal Carolina University, 6-3. Little did he know that the second baseman he passed while rounding the bases, red-shirt sophomore Tommy La Stella, would be a teammate of his with the Braves four years later.

Though Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he isn't platooning the two at second base, Gosselin and La Stella are both getting playing time at the position since being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett earlier this season. La Stella was brought up on May 28, making his Major League debut the same day. Gosselin was recalled on July 26 after playing in four games for Atlanta in 2013.

Both were in the starting lineup for Sunday's series finale against the Reds at Great American Ball Park because Gonzalez gave everyday shortstop Andrelton Simmons a day off. Gosselin started at short and La Stella started at second.

Both have performed well for the Braves: La Stella entered Sunday batting .270 with 13 doubles, 28 RBIs and 31 walks in 259 at-bats, while Gosselin was batting .286 in 42 at-bats, hitting his first Major League home run on Aug. 15 against the A's.

With both players in similar stages of their career, getting adjusted to life in the Majors and sharing the same position much of the time, La Stella and Gosselin seek advice from one another on a regular basis.

"Phil and I are great friends, first and foremost," La Stella said. "I've played with him for a few years now and he's a great player as well. Obviously we've shared some time in the Minor Leagues and now splitting time in the big leagues, and we bounce stuff off each other. I respect his opinion and he respects mine."

Though they played against each other in college, the two met for the first time while with the Braves' Double-A affiliate in Mississippi last year.

"We talk a lot about the pitchers we're going to face that day and what he's seen in the past since he's been here a little bit longer, that kind of thing," Gosselin said of his interaction with La Stella. "He's a really knowledgeable guy and I definitely bounce some things off him and he does the same with me. It's nice to have someone like that."

Though a scenario in which two young players are getting time at the same position can be competitive, with each trying to earn a lion's share of the playing time, Gosselin and La Stella understand they're contributing in a way that's best for the club.

"We kind of know it's flip flopping back and forth a little bit, but we've got to be ready to go every day and be ready to help the team any way we can," Gosselin said. "It's nice to know that you've got a good relationship in that situation."

Both players have proven valuable so far as the Braves seek a return to the postseason.

"It's awesome," La Stella said of having the chance to contribute in a pennant race right away. "We stepped into a situation on a team full of veteran guys, and it's good for us because we can kind of go out and do our thing; we're not expected to carry the workload and there are plenty of guys on this team that are capable of doing that. Hopefully we can make a playoff push and get in there."

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Walden checks in with injured friend Richards

Walden checks in with injured friend Richards play video for Walden checks in with injured friend Richards

CINCINNATI -- After Angels right-hander Garrett Richards' left knee buckled beneath him as he ran to cover first base on Wednesday against the Red Sox, causing him to be carted off the field in a stretcher, he received a text message from a good friend who happens to be a big league pitcher himself.

"I texted him right after I saw him go down," Braves reliever Jordan Walden said. "He just told me what happened and that he was going to have surgery. I'm actually waiting on another text back from him right now."

Walden was waiting to hear from Richards prior to Saturday's game against the Reds because Richards had undergone surgery to repair a torn left patella tendon on Friday in Orange, Calif. He is expected to need six to nine months for recovery.

"It's tough to see the ace of a pitching staff go down, especially when they're in the race," Walden said. "To see him go down with a knee injury is really scary, but Garrett is a hard worker and I think he'll recover from it and come back even stronger."

Both Walden and Richards were drafted by the Angels -- Walden in 2006 and Richards in '09 -- and met while in the club's farm system.

"We lived together a long time in the Minor Leagues," Walden said. "He went to the University of Oklahoma and we have a lot of mutual friends in Texas, so we always hang out. We've just been buddies forever, and he's in my wedding this offseason."

Walden is confident that Richards will be better than ever when he gets back on the mound.

"One, he's young," Walden said. "Two, he's got one of the best arms in the big leagues. And his arm didn't get hurt, so he's still going to have the 100 mph fastball. He's never going to lose that. It's just a little bump in the road for him. He'll bounce back fine."

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