ATLANTA -- The Ervin Santana that the Braves went over budget to sign to a one-year, $14.1 million deal showed up at Turner Field on Wednesday night. He stifled the Marlins, giving up only one run and striking out 10 in 7 1/3 innings.
Not only did the right-hander pitch well, but he halted Atlanta's two-game losing streak and gave a much-needed break to a bullpen that had pitched at least three innings in each of the first five games following the All-Star break, including six frames the night before.
"We were trying to push him a little bit because of the situation with our bullpen," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the Braves' 6-1 victory. "The last couple nights we had to cover so many innings out of there. He gave us everything he had."
Santana's ninth victory is perhaps the most positive sign thus far that he is regaining the stellar form he enjoyed earlier this season. He began the year 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in six outings before compiling a 6.44 ERA as the Braves lost five of his next six starts.
Miami was the victim of Santana's sixth quality start in his past seven turns, a stretch during which he owns a 3.50 ERA. It's not quite the level Atlanta would like him to pitch, but the Braves recognize the improvement in the 31-year-old.
"Oh yeah," Freddie Freeman said when asked if Wednesday's performance reminded him of Santana's early success. "He's been doing that for the last 5-6 starts. He had a couple of 3-4 starts in the middle that weren't his best, but the way he's been pitching and going into the eighth inning, that's pretty special. He was special tonight."
Santana has been even better in his past four starts, pitching into the eighth inning twice after going that far once in his first 15 starts. The four starts also include a 3.25 ERA and his two highest game scores (69, 63) since his six-start hot streak to begin the season.
He was especially happy with his slider on Wednesday night, throwing it 47 times in 110 pitches. Santana got 10 swings-and-misses at the breaking pitch against the Marlins.
"It was pretty good," Santana said. "I throw [it] in any count for a ball, for strikes, and I was very confident in throwing that pitch today."
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.