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CHC@ATL: Francisco battles Garza for 16 pitches

ATLANTA -- There were a few scouts at Turner Field to watch Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, considered a hot item as teams approach the Trade Deadline. They got to see every pitch in Garza's repertoire in the first inning.

Jason Heyward and Brian McCann each hit two-run home runs in the first and Freddie Freeman added a solo shot in the third, all off of Garza, to power the Braves to a 7-3 victory Thursday night over the Cubs, and a split of the four-game series.

"You come down here against a heck of a lineup -- they were all hot coming into this series pretty much -- and to shut them down two days, we're pretty happy winning two games here with the caliber team they have," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Garza (4-7) was pulled after giving up five runs on five hits and three walks over four innings, while striking out six. He's drawing interest from potential playoff-bound teams looking to add a starter before the July 31 Deadline. Garza is durable, has a career 23-15 record and 3.34 ERA in 56 games against American League East teams, and he won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season. That makes him very attractive.

Garza is well aware of the trade rumors. He just dismisses them.

"It doesn't affect what I do on the mound," said Garza, who threw 44 pitches in the first inning. "I still have to grab the ball and throw it for strikes. Like I've said before, I've been in trade rumors since my pro career started. It's more frustrating to go out there and let your boys stand around for 50 pitches in an inning. That's not good for anybody."

He's held opponents to a .235 batting average this season, but the Cubs have scored three or fewer runs while he's been in the game in 12 of his 16 starts, including four starts without a run scored.

On Thursday, the Braves jumped on Garza quickly. Heyward gave Atlanta a 2-0 lead with one out in the first on his 14th home run, driving in Martin Prado, who had singled. Freeman then singled and McCann launched his 10th homer of the season over the right-field fence to take a 4-0 lead. It was the fourth time in Garza's career that he served up two home runs in the same inning.

"It was 4-0 pretty quick," Sveum said. "Then the 15-, 16-pitch at-bat to [Juan] Francisco killed the whole outing. It seemed like [Garza] had good stuff. The slider he tried to get to Heyward's back foot ended up a spinning slider, and he tried to come in on McCann and left it down the middle of the plate for another two-run homer.

"It's too bad. Once again, [Garza] looked like he had pretty good stuff. The foul balls killed him."

The foul balls were courtesy of Francisco. It was a marathon at-bat -- and perhaps helpful to the scouts in attendance -- as Francisco made Garza throw 16 pitches. The Braves third baseman fouled off the last nine before finally grounding out to first to end the inning. Francisco didn't waste time in the eighth, when he hit the first pitch he saw from Manuel Corpas out for a home run.

"He started that at-bat at 30 pitches, which is OK, the pitcher is up next, and if he gets a hit, we're OK," Sveum said. "Then, jeez, you've got to get somebody up. If he didn't get [Francisco] out there, [Garza] would've been out of there."

Francisco wasn't finished. He had another long at-bat in the fourth, seeing 12 pitches.

"[Garza] ended up walking him [in the fourth] -- he just got tired of him and, 'Let's move on to the next guy,'" Sveum said.

"It's just an at-bat," Garza said of the first Francisco at-bat. "He battled, I battled, and I won the first one, and he won the second one."

Garza tried everything.

"It was a rough first inning, and I just had to get him out and get out of that inning," he said. "You throw mistakes in the big leagues, you see what you get. You tip your cap and keep grinding."

After a welcome 10-pitch second inning, Garza served up another home run in the third as Freeman connected with one out to open a 5-0 lead. It was the second time this year that Garza gave up three homers in a game; he also did so May 27 against the Pirates.

Both Heyward's and McCann's homers came on 1-2 counts.

"It's a pattern of getting to two strikes and not being able to put people away sometimes," Sveum said. "It's kind of a strange thing, but some pitchers are like that."

Garza can throw 95-mph fastballs, has four pitches and command. Those are all good things. How can he improve on finishing off batters?

"I think the fastball command with two strikes, I think that's where we lose it a little bit," Sveum said. "I think we want to get a little soft sometimes instead of putting them away with a fastball right away."

Garza did try to talk Sveum into letting him stay in the game, but that was enough. How did the right-hander grade his first half of the season?

"Pretty [bad]," Garza said. "I started out great, got sick, and then it went [bad] from there. I'm not too happy with the way I ended this half. Believe me, I'll come out [angry], and it'll be one [heck] of a second half."

Sveum started left-handed-hitting Bryan LaHair and David DeJesus against Braves lefty Mike Minor (5-6), who entered the game with a 6.20 ERA. He was better than the numbers would indicate, holding the Cubs hitless until Geovany Soto belted a solo home run with one out in the fifth.

Anthony Rizzo singled to lead off the seventh, having now reached safely in each of his nine games with the Cubs. Alfonso Soriano walked and, one out later, Minor departed. Pinch-hitter Reed Johnson singled one out later to score Rizzo, and Soriano scored on a throwing error by Heyward.

With the loss, the Cubs dropped to 6-18 against left-handed starters, and they will face two more in the last three games before the All-Star break against the Mets.

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