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CHC@ATL: Minor strikes out six, allows two earned

ATLANTA -- With one out in the top of the sixth inning Thursday night, catcher Brian McCann made a long visit to Mike Minor on the pitcher's mound. Minor was cruising. He had held the Cubs to just one hit, a solo home run to Geovany Soto an inning before. The Braves had staked him to a five-run lead, and he appeared to be on his way to one of his best starts of the season.

Still, McCann wanted to make sure the 24-year-old left-hander continued to pitch up to his ability.

"He knew it was getting later in the game, and he wanted me just to compete with everything I had left in the tank," Minor said.

Minor easily finished off the sixth inning, and the Braves held on for a 7-3 victory in front of 24,408 fans at Turner Field. Minor allowed three runs (two earned) in 6 1/3 innings and won his second straight start. It was just the second time Minor pitched into the seventh inning since April.

In the end, McCann said, Minor didn't need the sixth-inning pep talk.

"He really pitched well tonight," McCann said. "I don't think me saying anything did anything. I just wanted to throw my two cents in there, and I did, but Mike was under control all night."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said it was an important win for Minor, who can now go into the All-Star break on a high note.

"I think this is his second outing that was pretty decent for him," Gonzalez said. "He goes into the break feeling good about himself and maybe come out the other end with some momentum."

The Braves' offense allowed Minor to pitch with a lead for much of the night. They wasted no time getting to Cubs starter Matt Garza in the first inning, taking a 2-0 lead three batters into the game. Martin Prado extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single, and Jason Heyward followed with a deep fly ball into the right-field seats for his team-leading 14th home run of the season.

Freddie Freeman kept the rally going with a single, and Brian McCann followed with a home run of his own, giving the Braves a 4-0 lead. It was McCann's 10th home run of the season and first since June 15.

Though the Braves pounded out four hits and sent eight batters to the plate against Garza in the first inning, Gonzalez singled out Juan Francisco's at-bat. Francisco battled Garza for 16 pitches before grounding out to first base to end the inning.

"I don't think [Garza] ever recovered from that," Gonzalez said.

While Garza settled in after a 44-pitch first inning, the Braves' power display wasn't done just yet. Freeman hit a solo home run to center field in the third inning, his 11th home run of the year.

Garza's pitch count would eventually catch up to him. He threw 94 pitches and was relieved after four innings. It was Garza's shortest start since going three innings in a loss to the Astros on May 21.

The Braves scored a pair of insurance runs against the Cubs' bullpen. McCann drove in his third run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly, and Francisco hit his sixth home run of the season in the eighth inning.

While Minor pitched well, the insurance would prove to be useful. He allowed the first two batters to reach in the seventh inning before striking out Bryan LaHair. Gonzalez then called for Kris Medlen to relieve Minor, but Medlen was unable to keep the runners from scoring. Reed Johnson slapped a pinch-hit single to right field to drive in one run, and the Cubs scored an unearned run on the play when Heyward made an errant throw to third base.

Thursday's victory gave the Braves a split in their four-game series with the Cubs and evened their record on the homestand at 5-5. With a series against the National League East-rival Phillies before the All-Star break, the Braves hope to mimic Minor and finish the first half on a good note.

"Tonight we came out and at least split the series," McCann said. "We had an OK homestand, ended it on a good note, and we need to go to Philly and take care of business."

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