Braves bats back Carlyle's solid outing
Saltalamacchia homers twice; Andruw hits three-run shot
ATLANTA -- While they might be just two days removed from the worst offensive drought they ever want to encounter, the Braves are beginning to display that youthful excitement that has been absent for the better part of this month.
More importantly, they're starting to showcase some offense, something that definitely was absent last week.
Powered by Jarrod Saltalamacchia's first career two-homer game and a three-run blast from Andruw Jones, the Braves claimed a 6-2 win over the Nationals at Turner Field on Tuesday night. With wins in consecutive games for just the third time this month, Atlanta has erased some of the bad memories that were created during the horrific five-game losing streak that preceded this series.
"When we were going through that losing streak, it was miserable," said Brian McCann, who helped turn an instrumental and uncanny first-inning double play in this latest win. "Nobody wanted to have fun. It was tough to do anything. You had to do everything out of the ordinary. So, yeah, it's awesome to get on the other side."
With a win in Wednesday's series finale, the Braves will own a three-game winning streak for just the second time since May 12. Yet despite all of their recent troubles, which were highlighted by the fact that they scored just one run in the 46 innings preceding this series, they find themselves just 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Mets in the National League East race.
"It felt good to get out there and win a couple to get us going," said Saltalmacchia, the powerful 22-year-old switch-hitter, who entered this game with just two homers in the first 75 at-bats of his career.
Saltalamacchia's march toward doubling his career-homer total began when he led off the bottom of the third with a solo shot off Nationals starter Mike Bacsik. Two innings later, he sparked a four-run fifth by hitting Bacsik's first-pitch fastball over the left-field wall.
"I was happy with one," said Saltalamacchia, an impressive young catcher who was making his third career start at first base. "After the first one, I said, 'I can go 1-for-4.' I felt good. I felt comfortable at the plate."
Cox said Saltalamacchia will start at first base again on Wednesday. It appears the plan is to put him at first base in place of Scott Thorman during any game that the opponent is starting a left-handed pitcher.
After Saltalamacchia sparked the fifth, Jones highlighted it with his three-run blast. The Gold Glove center fielder, who is hitting .198 this season, had gone 53 at-bats without an extra-base hit. But given his recent woes, that isn't too surprising.
In his previous 13 games, Jones had hit just .064 (3-for-47) with a .154 on-base percentage. This slump dated back to June 9, which is when he had previously homered. Two years removed from his career-best 51-homer season, the 30-year-old outfielder is on pace to hit just 24 home runs this year.
"He's struggling a little bit," McCann said. "But he's starting to put some better swings on the ball the last four or five games. It's only a matter of time for him to blow up and carry us and then all of this can be forgotten."
While limiting the Nationals to one earned run over seven innings and notching his second win over the season, Buddy Carlyle was able to forget about the fact that just five days ago, the Red Sox tagged him for seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. The Braves have won four of the past five games that this 29-year-old journeyman has started.
"Being a guy that's been up and down for so long, you expect the worst after a game like that," said Carlyle, who before this year hadn't made a Major League start since 1999. "Who knows? You might get sent down [to the Minors] and not ever get another chance. Just the fact that [Braves manager] Bobby [Cox] had the confidence to put the ball back in my hand and give me another start, put a lot of confidence in me."
Things didn't exactly looking promising for Carlyle when he surrendered three straight one-out singles in the first inning. But thanks to a double play started by Matt Diaz in left field and ended by Chipper Jones at third base, he was amazingly able to escape the inning unscathed.
"You're not going to see that double play too often," Cox said. "That was everything."
After fielding Dmitri Young's single, Diaz fired a strong throw to McCann, who blocked the plate and applied a nice tag on Felipe Lopez. Alertly, the 23-year-old catcher then rose to his knees and fired a strike to Jones, who applied the inning-ending double-play tag on Ryan Zimmerman.
"When I was throwing that pitch to Dmitri, I was thinking, 'Try to throw a sinker and get a double play,'" Carlyle said. "But that's not the way I was thinking of getting it. But I'll take it any way that I can get it. ... After giving up all those runs last week, I was just happy about getting a zero on the board. I didn't care how it happened."
Along those same lines, the Braves don't care that they've put their streak of consecutive offensive zeroes to rest against a last-place team like the Nationals. They're just happy about the fact that they can once again smile and have some fun.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.