Braves dominated by Owings' bat

Braves dominated by pitcher's bat

ATLANTA -- It might be far too early to hit the panic button. But, as the past few days have proven, it's obviously time to once again wonder if the back end of the Braves rotation will cripple their bid to reach the postseason.

There wasn't much reason to blink when this three-game series against the Diamondbacks began with Brandon Webb extending his scoreless innings streak to 42 with a two-hit shutout. All he did was treat the Braves like he's treated every other team he's faced over the past month.

But there certainly wasn't any reason to predict the thorough and utter dominance that Micah Owings would provide in the 12-6 win the Diamondbacks claimed at Turner Field on Saturday night. All this 6-foot-5, 225-pound beast did was treat Braves starter Buddy Carlyle in the same manner that he once treated high school pitchers in metro Atlanta.

And to add to his grand homecoming, Owings found a way to continue subduing a potent Braves offense with seven solid innings that were blemished only by three solo homers.

"I've seen him hit some hard balls before, but obviously not with a wooden bat in a big league game," said Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who grew up playing against Owings. "I'm sure it was great with his family and everybody here. He kind of did everything for them tonight."

Francoeur capped his first two-homer performance of the season during a three-run ninth that did nothing but delay Owings' opportunity to celebrate with approximately 50 friends and family members who made the approximately one-hour trek from his childhood neighborhood in Gainesville, Ga. to see this rookie right-hander make his Atlanta debut.

While important, the conversations during this celebration likely didn't have much to do with the fact that Owings had just won for the first time in 10 starts. Instead, most of the talk would have centered around his bat, which produced four hits, including two homers, and six RBIs.

Such a night would be welcomed by the likes of Ryan Howard. For guys like Owings, who had registered a total of eight hits -- a homer included -- in the 39 career at-bats he'd previously totaled, they are savored.

With the homers he hit in the fourth and sixth innings, he matched the total he'd amassed in the 100 career professional at-bats he'd had entering this game.

"We knew he was a good hitter -- not just a good hitter, but a good hitter with power," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He got too many good pitches to hit."

Carlyle, who lost a second consecutive start for the first time this season, was well aware of the power Owings had displayed during his All-America days at Tulane University. But still, he couldn't have envisioned him hitting his 415-foot homer to begin the fourth inning or the 446-foot, two-run blast in the sixth inning.

"He's another guy in their lineup that can swing," said Carlyle, who allowed eight runs -- five earned -- and 10 hits in five innings. "You've still got to make pitches, and I didn't do it. It's kind of frustrating that it was the pitcher."

While the homers were impressive, the night really took its initial turn for the worse when Owings chopped a two-run double past third baseman Chipper Jones to spark Arizona's four-run second inning. From there things just got worse for Carlyle and the Braves, who have lost three straight and now find themselves 5 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East race.

"Buddy pitched a little better than the line is going to say," said Cox, whose offense has hit just .224 during this six-game homestand that can at least be split with a win in Sunday's series finale.

Carlyle's forgettable performance, which was marred with two second-inning errors, came just two days after Chuck James surrendered four homers in just three innings. While Lance Cormier provided some hope on Friday night, the Braves know they'll need more than John Smoltz and Tim Hudson to realize their goal of getting back into the postseason.

"It's frustrating," said Carlyle, who had won five of six starts before experiencing this current mini-drought. "You want to pitch better on a day like today, when your team needs a win. When you give the other team a big lead like that, it's hard for your hitters."

When Chipper Jones drilled his 20th homer to give the Braves their only lead of the night in the first inning, it didn't exactly look like Owings was destined for a memorable homecoming. But the only other hits he surrendered over his seven-inning effort were the back-to-back homers hit by Francoeur and Andruw Jones in the seventh inning.

"We need wins right now," Francoeur said. "We need to get them and we need to get a lot of them soon."

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