Lumber lifts Braves to easy victory
Francoeur records four hits; Hampton dazzles for second win
ATLANTA -- Jeff Francoeur is hitting and Mike Hampton is winning. This is exactly what the Braves had envisioned long before these developments became pleasantly surprising events.
Proving that this week's rarities didn't have to be confined to the cycle Mark Kotsay produced Thursday night, Hampton won for just the second time in three years and Francoeur provided a four-hit performance that, just four days ago, seemed as improbable as Michael Phelps actually losing a race.
While combining to produce these encouraging surprises at Turner Field on Saturday night, Francoeur and Hampton helped Atlanta beat San Francisco, 11-5, and avoid matching its season-worst six-game losing streak in the process.
"We've been playing so bad lately," Francoeur said. "To break that [losing] streak felt great."
There have been few reasons for Hampton and Francoeur to smile this season. While Hampton spent most of the first four months stuck on the same disabled list that he's inhabited most of the previous three seasons, Francoeur was trying to regain the promise he'd shown during his first three Major League seasons.
But both were certainly smiling after the Braves notched just their second win in five games against the Giants this year. Francoeur matched his career-best four-hit performance for the first time since Aug. 7, 2007, and Hampton allowed two earned runs and seven hits in a six-inning effort that proved strong enough to give him his second win -- both against the Giants -- in his past three starts.
"It's nice when you go out there and feel like you have a chance, instead of going out there and feeling like you are beat," said Francoeur, who has found immediate success since beginning to tap his left foot before striding toward pitches.
In the three games he's utilized this timing mechanism, Francoeur has recorded seven hits in 14-at-bats. Before Thursday, he had four hits in his previous 30 at-bats and seven hits in his previous 45 at-bats.
"I think he's found something," said Braves manager Bobby Cox in reference to Francoeur, who entered Saturday with the third-worst batting average (.227) among all qualified National League players.
Francoeur's second-inning RBI double got the Braves rolling, and they responded by sending 10 batters to the plate during a four-run third inning that included an Omar Infante double and three consecutive RBI singles from Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Hampton, who has three hits and four RBIs in nine at-bats this season.
"Hampton, I thought he threw real good," Cox said. "He wasn't hit real hard and did some hitting again himself."
Hampton's two victorious outings against the Giants this month account for the only wins he's recorded since Aug. 14, 2005. The 35-year-old southpaw missed the past two seasons while recovering from left elbow surgeries, and he didn't make this season's debut until July 26.
At times, he's battled the same confidence issues that were plaguing Francoeur. Through his first five starts this season, he's gone 2-1 with a 6.92 ERA. While proving he can be effective, Hampton has also given himself and the Braves confidence that he can pitch and stay healthy.
With his eight-year, $121 million contract expiring at the end of this season, Hampton will spend the remainder of the season looking to prove he deserves a job in a Major League rotation next year.
"The last six weeks [of the season] are huge for me," Hampton said. "I have to not only prove to myself, but [prove] to others that I'm healthy and can still get somebody out."
Hampton's patented sinker, which didn't do much sinking when he allowed the Diamondbacks six earned runs in four innings during his previous start, proved effective again against the Giants, who saw the veteran southpaw record 10 of his 18 outs on groundouts.
"The rhythm is a little better," Hampton said. "I can feel when I'm doing something wrong. I can fix it a little quicker. It gets better every time out."
Hampton, who had allowed two earned runs in seven innings against the Giants on Aug. 5, didn't run into trouble until surrendering a pair of singles to begin the fifth inning. But he limited the damage to two runs, which came courtesy of an Ivan Ochoa double and an Aaron Rowand RBI groundout.
By that time, the Braves had already taken advantage of Giants starter Matt Palmer -- who was making his Major League debut -- and produced eight runs with the help of Francoeur, who capped his productive and encouraging evening with singles in the fourth and fifth innings.
"He had a good approach every at-bat," Hampton said. "He wasn't just hitting mistakes."
When Francoeur enjoyed his first three-hit game in a span of 68 games on Thursday, he quieted his doubters. Over the course of the season's final 39 games, he'd like to completely silence them and prove why he was once considered one of the game's top young players.
"I think, more than anything, it feels good that I was able to do it the other night and then come back and do it two nights later," Francoeur said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.