Minor, bats power Braves over Nats

Minor, bats power Braves over Nats

ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepared for batting practice at Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon, Matt Diaz playfully said that his presence in the cleanup spot was going to provide Martin Prado the protection he needed while filling Chipper Jones' role as the club's three-hole hitter.

A few hours later, Prado gave his teammates further reason to believe that no matter where he's situated in the lineup, he still has the potential to be the same hitting machine that he was before he broke his right pinky finger on July 30.

Facing Major League competition for the first time in 17 days, Prado highlighted a three-hit performance with the game-tying double that he delivered during the four-run sixth inning that the Braves produced during Tuesday night's 10-2 win over the Nationals.

"He was right on every pitch," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He didn't miss a beat."

Prado and Diaz delivered the consecutive doubles that capped the sixth-inning eruption that allowed Mike Minor to earn the first win of his young career. Making just his second Major League start, the 22-year-old left-hander allowed two earned runs over six innings -- and then found himself doused by the beer some of his teammates showered him with at the start of his postgame interview.

"Hopefully, I have more of those to come," said Minor, who chose to change into athletic shorts and a T-shirt before leaving the stadium.

Prado's game-tying double was actually one of the more predictable events that transpired during the surprise-filled sixth inning that fittingly began with Diory Hernandez ending Scott Olsen's dominance with a leadoff homer. Hernandez's first career pinch-hit homer served as the necessary spark for the Braves, who produced just two baserunners through the first two innings.

"Diory probably thought he was going to be the last guy called upon to hit in that situation -- and then he goes up there and hits that home run," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "That's the kind of year that it's been around here. It's seemingly somebody different every night."

By the time the Nationals recorded the first out in the bottom of the sixth, the Braves had recorded four extra-base hits, tallied four runs and waved goodbye to the two-run deficit they'd incurred courtesy of the consecutive two-out doubles Minor had surrendered with two outs in the top of the half of the inning.

"Even when Mike gave up those runs, the attitude wasn't, 'I hope we can come back tonight,'" Diaz said. "It was, 'Who is going to be the guy tonight?' It ended up being everybody by the end of the night."

With All-Star catcher Brian McCann getting a chance to rest, Diaz was inserted into the cleanup spot with the hope that he would continue his mastery of left-handed pitchers. As it turned out, he provided his most influential at-bat against right-handed reliever Joel Peralta, who entered after Olsen's sixth-inning woes were extended by an Omar Infante triple and a walk drawn by Jason Heyward.

With runners on the corners and nobody out, Prado delivered his game-tying double, which served as just the eighth hit he'd recorded in his previous 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The All-Star infielder would further improve this stat with a seventh-inning RBI single that moved him toward what was his 17th three-hit game of the season.

When reminded that Diaz had playfully told him that he'd be well protected, Prado smirked and said, "Yeah, that's why I got those three hits."

Minor, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, issued a one-out walk to Ian Desmond and surrendered a Ryan Zimmerman single before ending the first inning with consecutive strikeouts against Adam Dunn and Ivan Rodriguez. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook initially ruled that Braves catcher David Ross dropped Rodriguez's fouled third strike.

When the umpiring crew met and ruled that Ross dropped the ball as he was transferring it to his right hand, Rodriguez argued in a heated manner and was ejected. This provided an opportunity for backup catcher Wil Nieves -- who proved to be Minor's chief nemesis.

Minor had retired 10 straight batters before allowing Nieves' two-out fourth-inning single. Then with two outs in the sixth, the Braves southpaw saw his scoreless bid erased by the consecutive two-out doubles that he surrendered to Nieves and Mike Morse.

"He was good," said Dunn, who accounted for two of the five strikeouts recorded by Minor. "From the first time seeing him, he spotted his fastball really good and didn't give us much to hit."

Proving to be more aggressive than he was during his Major League debut in Houston last week, Minor commanded both sides of the plate with his fastball and proved that he could be effective on a night when he didn't have his best changeup.

"After that one last week, I was like, 'It's the same guys and the same game, just go out there throw your pitches and execute,'" Minor said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.