Braves bash Padres in opener
Carlyle fans seven, backed by impressive game from Andruw
SAN DIEGO -- When asked about his utter dominance at PETCO Park, Andruw Jones struggled to provide a solid explanation. It's almost as if he's been asked a difficult question, like "How has a 29-year-old journeyman ended up establishing himself as one of the most important keys to second-half success for a once-pitching-rich Braves organization?"
To explain the story of this 29-year-old hurler Buddy Carlyle, one must begin in San Diego, explore his multiple trips to find employment in Asia and finally arrive back in Atlanta, where he now has the Braves believing he has the ability to find a lasting spot at the Major League level.
"I like the way he goes about his business," said Jones, whose first two-hit performance in nearly a month sparked the offensive support that backed the stellar eight-inning effort Carlyle provided in the 7-4 win the Braves claimed over the Padres at PETCO Park on Friday night.
When Carlyle arrived at Spring Training as a non-roster invitee -- the journeyman's last previous Major League start had come with the 1999 Padres -- there wasn't much reason to believe he'd become such an important piece to the success of the Braves, who have now won five of the past seven games that he's started.
But like so many other journeymen before him, he's thrived amid the constant optimism provided by veteran manager Bobby Cox, who saw Carlyle give him more than he could have imagined while limiting the Padres to three earned runs during his career-high eight-inning effort.
"To get a win is very important, but to get eight innings out of a pitcher right now is pretty darn good," said Cox, who had seen his bullpen total 25 innings over the course of the previous five games.
When this week began with three straight losses in games that his team held leads, Cox cringed. His goal entering this current 10-game road trip was to head into the All-Star break at least tied for first in the National League East standings. With three straight wins, he finds himself feeling much better and his team just two games behind the first-place Mets.
"We're not worrying about the Mets," said Jones, whose first two-hit performance since June 9 raised his batting average to .203 -- the highest it's been since June 18. "We're just doing our job and trying to win the games that we need to win. Whatever happens to them is their business. ... We just have to worry about ourselves."
For most of this season, the Braves have had to worry about the fact that Jones was proving to be an overwhelming burden in their lineup. But with five homers in his past 10 games, he's at least providing the power they'd envisioned. His latest blast, his 14th of the season, was a two-run shot in the fourth inning that gave the Braves their first runs in this series opener against the NL West leaders.
"I've been hitting some balls up the middle," Jones said. "Whenever you are hitting balls back up the middle, it means you are staying on the ball. That's a good sign."
It's also a good sign for the Braves whenever they're able to bring Jones' bat to PETCO Park, where in 50 career at-bats here, he's batted .360 (18-for-50) with nine homers and 19 RBIs. His homer total is the highest of any visiting player, and his RBI total ranks second only to Todd Helton, who has needed 113 at-bats to register 21 RBIs here.
"I like it," Jones said while stating the obvious. "I hit the ball pretty good here."
When Carlyle was a 21-year-old rookie with the Padres in 1999, he, too, liked San Diego and the respect he received from the organization. But after struggling in four appearances during the 2000 season, he didn't know if he'd ever make it back and he didn't until making a relief appearance for the Dodgers in 2005.
After he surrendered hits to three of the first four hitters he faced in San Diego's first inning on Friday, it looked like he might be in store for a rocky homecoming. But after finding better command with his offspeed pitches and getting ahead of hitters he settled into a groove. His most impressive inning came in the fourth, during which he needed just nine pitches to strike out the side.
"He came up with a gem," Cox said of Carlyle, who has allowed four earned runs in his past 18 innings. "He had a lot of strikeouts."
While matching a career-best eight strikeout effort that he'd previously set with the Padres on Sept. 20, 1999, Carlyle also showed he can also swing the lumber. His fourth-inning RBI single -- his first hit Major League hit since 1999 -- gave the Braves a lead they would hold the rest of the night.
After tallying three runs in the fourth, the Braves once again jumped on Padres starter Justin Germano during a four-run fifth, which included an RBI double by Kelly Johnson, who accounted for three of his team's 12 hits.
While the continued support of an offense that has tallied five runs or more in eight of the last nine games was important, this night belonged to Carlyle, who is working toward losing that journeyman label that he'd gained ever since leaving San Diego.
"Obviously anybody who has ever played for the Braves or for Bobby wants to stay here forever," Carlyle said. "I'm fortunate to be here and I want to stay."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.