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MIL@ATL: Gonzalez speaks about Minor's improvements

ATLANTA -- After Mike Minor made an unimpressive spot start in Milwaukee during the first week of the 2011 season, there was reason to wonder if the young left-hander would ever live up to the expectations the Braves had when they took him with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

A little more than one year later, Minor has at least given the Braves confidence that he can be a pitcher they can rely on for many years to come.

Minor was simply sensational as he produced the strongest start of his young career and benefited from a fortune-filled second inning that provided the Braves with the only runs they would need to secure a 2-1 win over the Brewers on Saturday night at Turner Field.

"He was really in command of that baseball game," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's not the same guy."

The Brewers could certainly attest to the fact that this was not the same Minor who lacked confidence while allowing them five earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings during the first week of the 2011 season. This time, they saw a confident 24-year-old left-hander who is now commanding his secondary pitches and remaining calm, like he did after allowing the leadoff hitter to reach in the first two innings on Saturday.

"I told [Braves catcher Brian McCann] it's probably not going to be the greatest outing, but then it ended up being my best," Minor said after limiting the Brewers to two hits in a career-high 7 1/3 innings.

The Braves have had plenty to celebrate while winning four straight games since opening the season with four straight losses. But with all due respect to Chipper Jones' impressive return from the disabled list earlier this week, the club's most impressive performance of this young season now belongs to Minor.

One night after opening the home portion of their schedule with an offensive slugfest, the Braves watched Minor enter the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead and the confidence that had built as he retired each of the previous 17 batters he faced. After retiring the first batter in the eighth inning, he saw his dominant run and 99-pitch effort end with Jonathan Lucroy's double off the center-field wall.

"Fastball in and out and a great changeup," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said while praising Minor. "We didn't square many balls."

After Minor exited, Mat Gamel greeted Jonny Venters with a soft single that put runners on the corners. Lucroy was retired as he tried to score on Cesar Izturis' one-out comebacker to the mound. But Gamel scored from second base after Dan Uggla fielded a soft grounder and made an unnecessary off-balance throw that nearly entered the Braves dugout.

The Brewers made things interesting in the ninth when they loaded the bases with two walks and a single against Craig Kimbrel. But with the bases loaded and one out, Kimbrel notched consecutive strikeouts of George Kottaras and Gamel.

Kimbrel has notched four consecutive save opportunities since remaining idle as the Braves lost each of their first four games of the season. The four-game winning streak is the club's first since Aug. 20-23 of last season.

"You know it's a long season and you can fight back," McCann said. "We did that and we're right back where we need to be. We just need to keep winning."

On the way to retiring 18 consecutive batters, Minor worked into the eighth inning for the first time in his career. He began the game with a walk to Rickie Weeks and then allowed a single to Carlos Gomez. He struck out Ryan Braun, and then saw Juan Francisco show some agility as he fielded Aramis Ramirez's grounder, stepped on third and fired across the diamond for an inning-ending double play.

Minor also induced a double play immediately after hitting Corey Hart with the first pitch he threw in the second inning. From there, he went on to become the first Braves starting pitcher to record an out in the sixth inning this year.

"He made a huge pitch to get a double play and get us out of that inning," McCann said. "From there, he cruised the rest of the game."

Brewers starter Shaun Marcum enjoyed his own strong performance, as he limited the Braves to three hits over seven innings. But the veteran right-hander was undone during the two-run second inning that began with a McCann walk.

Jason Heyward then beat a defensive shift with a grounder that slipped through the left side of the infield and went into shallow center field. McCann raced from first to third base on the play and scored when Braun's throw from left-center field hit him in the back.

Heyward took third base on the error and scored when Francisco followed with a long double to the right-center-field gap. Marcum would retire each of the next 11 batters he faced. But with Minor cruising, the Braves had already produced all of the offense they would need.

"We did a nice job of baserunning there with Mac," Gonzalez said. "They throw the ball away and we were able to sneak that one in. Then Francisco did a good job of splitting the gap in right-center field." Comments