07/09/08 3:03 AM ET
Braves' offense rebounds vs. Dodgers
McCann, Kotsay lead Atlanta to key win with big nights
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
After three months of frustrating mediocrity, the Braves entered this final road trip before the All-Star break looking to gain some momentum to carry into the season's second half. Almost being victimized by a perfect game in Monday's series opener didn't exactly provide the desired spark.
But the combined offensive effort that carried them to a 9-3 win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night was certainly something that showed why there was once a time when this Braves lineup was considered as potentially potent as any in the National League.
"When everybody is healthy, we're putting up at-bats like we did tonight, we're going to score a lot of runs," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said after aiding this victory with his third career multi-homer game.
While McCann's two-homer performance and Mark Kotsay's three-hit performance highlighted the offensive attack, Jair Jurrjens continued an impressive rookie season by limiting the Dodgers to one earned run and five hits in six innings. Some early control problems led to a high early pitch count and forced him to end his 103-pitch performance a little earlier than desired.
Jurrjens, who has never thrown more than 140 innings before in his professional career, won't pitch again until after the All-Star break. Through 18 starts and 111 innings this year, the 22-year-old has gone 9-4 with a 3.00 ERA. In his past five starts, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA.
"This was a big win for me," said Jurrjens, who allowed just one run in 13 innings against the Dodgers this year. "It allows me to go into the [All-Star] break strong and being confident going into the second half."
Jurrjens' effort helped the Braves pull within five games of the front-running Phillies in the National League East race. They'll complete this series against the Dodgers on Wednesday and then go to San Diego for a three-game series this weekend.
The Braves entered this game having been shut out in their previous two road games and still feeling the frustration created by Hiroki Kuroda, who had limited them to one baserunner less than 24 hours earlier. They exited it feeling much better about Kotsay's back and celebrating just their 10th win in their last 36 road games.
Kotsay contributed three singles and proved that he'd polished some of the rusty mechanics he'd showed since ending a five-week disabled list stint on July 1. Entering Tuesday, the veteran outfielder, whose lengthy absence was necessitated by an ailing back, had recorded just one hit in the 20 at-bats that had followed his activation.
"It just felt good to be able to contribute to this win," said Kotsay, who singled and scored in both the fifth and sixth innings that victimized Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley.
Billingsley, who entered the game having not allowed an earned run in 15 consecutive innings, kept the Braves hitless through four innings and then surrendered three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.
Yunel Escobar's one-out, three-run triple gave the Braves their first runs on the road in a span of 22 innings. One inning later, McCann started things with a solo shot and Gregor Blanco later followed with a two-run single off Ramon Troncoso.
"Escobar had the big hit and things just kind of rolled from there," McCann said.
Jones, who owns a Major League-best .379 batting average, was the only starting position player who didn't record a hit. The veteran third baseman struck out three times in a game for the first time since Aug. 28.
Jones has been asking for his teammates to step up and they answered his call on Tuesday. Playing for the first time since being sent to Double-A Mississippi to get his head and swing right this past weekend, Jeff Francoeur looked good in three of his five at-bats.
His only hit was a fifth-inning single through the left side of the infield. But he grounded sharply to the right side during his first plate appearance and didn't look pull-happy in the fourth inning when he hit a sharp fly ball to right field. Francoeur's defensive contribution came when he ended the third inning with a throw to first base that retired Andre Ethier, who was running on a pitch that Russell Martin directed to right field. Francoeur's 51 career outfield assists are the most for any Major Leaguer dating back to his July 7, 2005 debut.
It was a relatively stress-free night for the Braves until Julian Tavarez, who had just been signed earlier in the day, recorded one out while walking two and allowing two hits in the ninth. The 35-year-old reliever, who hadn't pitched since being released by the Brewers on June 25, was fortunate that the damage was limited to just two runs.
"He was rusty," Cox said.
Fortunately for Cox, this was a night when he didn't have to say the same about his offense.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.