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Conrad makes presence felt with Braves

Conrad makes presence felt with Braves

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WASHINGTON -- Brooks Conrad was ready to take his first at-bat in the top of the second inning of the Gwinett Braves' game Thursday, when manager Dave Brundage asked the infielder if he still wanted to hit.

"Of course," Conrad thought, not knowing that he had just been called up to the Atlanta Braves for the injured Kelly Johnson. When he learned the news, Conrad decided to shut it down and get ready for his trip to Washington, where the big league club would begin a three-game set against the Nationals on Friday.

With two outs and the game tied in the seventh inning, the Braves had men on first and second. With the pitcher's spot due in the batting order, bench coach Chino Cadahia approached Conrad and told him to go hit. So the newest member of the team grabbed his bat and a No. 28 lefty helmet (Conrad's number is 26) and readied for his first Braves at-bat.

The first pitch from Nationals reliever Jesus Colome was a 95-mph fastball that Conrad offered a dithering half-swing at for strike one. Now Conrad was looking for a fastball he could drive.

Colome fired another heater, 97 on the gun in a similar location, and this time the rookie's bat hastened and blistered the pitch into the home bullpen in right field for his first career home run -- one that gave the Braves a secure three-run lead.

"[It was a] huge thrill," said Conrad, who later got the ball back after right fielder Jeff Francoeur requested it from the Nationals' bullpen. "Obviously, [it's] the best experience I've ever had in the big leagues. It just feels awesome to come up and contribute right away like that."

With Conrad's initiation dinger proving to be the game-winner, the Braves won, 9-8, for their season-best fifth consecutive victory.

Unsure of the rookie's role, if any, manager Bobby Cox told Conrad before the game to "just be ready." Instead of pinch-hitting veteran Garret Anderson, Cox chose the switch-hitting Conrad to bat, figuring the Nationals would potentially counter with a southpaw.

Conrad, who had 19 career at-bats, all with Oakland last season, made sure that no one questioned Cox's move.

While that home run will be long remembered by Conrad and the Braves, the six innings which preceded it were wild as well.

Making his first start since being struck in the neck by a line drive on June 24, Kenshin Kawakami labored through 4 1/3 innings, surrendering five runs. Through a translator, Kawakami said that the layoff did not affect him.

The 34-year-old's control problems got him into trouble, but after yielding runs in the first three innings, the Braves' bats continually retaliated, releasing him from the hook.

"Kawakami was OK tonight," said Cox, who added that 92 pitches from the right-hander in just 4 1 1/3 innings was way too much. "His stuff is still there. He just gets off target once in a while and builds up too many pitches real quick."

The Braves' offense peppered Nationals rookie Ross Detwiler for 10 hits and five runs in 3 1/3 innings. Martin Prado had three hits, and ensuing batters Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar and Matt Diaz each had a pair of knocks, as the Nos. 2-5 batters consistently got on base and drove each other home.

Ahead, 8-5, after the Conrad shot, Peter Moylan surrendered a run in the seventh, Mike Gonzalez struck out the side in the eighth and then Rafael Soriano added some relevance to the ninth.

With a three-run advantage, the closer of the night walked the first two Nationals batters before inducing a pop out and strike out. Then Cristian Guzman stroked a two-out double to plate both runners and put the tying run in scoring position.

In a bind, Soriano got Josh Bard to hit a soft dribbler to first base, which ended the chaotic night.

The Braves left 13 men on base, which isn't too bad since they had 22 total baserunners. They knocked in the ones that mattered, namely a key three on Brooks' big blast.

Conrad, who arrived from Norfolk at around 10:30 ET on Friday morning, had hit nine home runs at Gwinett and was billed as a Triple-A All-Star on Thursday. He won't get to play in that game now that he's with Atlanta.

"Fans will love this kid," Cox said of Conrad. "He's all-out all the time. He's one of those gritty old-timers. He's not old, don't get me wrong, but he plays like the old-timers."

Due to the circumstances of when his homer was hit, Conrad didn't receive the typical "silent treatment" of a guy hitting his first career long ball.

"I think everyone was pretty jacked up," Chipper Jones said. "It was back and forth all night. They were up, it was tied, they were up, we were up. We really felt at that time, that was a blow that couldn't be overcome."

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

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