Minor puts his best foot forward vs. Yanks
ATLANTA -- The one member of the Braves who most deserved a much, much better fate Tuesday night was Mike Minor.
He went 7 1/3 innings against the mighty New York Yankees, giving up one run on five hits, walking just one and striking out four. The one run charged to him scored after the game was turned over to the Braves' bullpen. And for this, all Minor received was a no-decision.
When Minor was pulled in favor of Jonny Venters, there was one out and one on in the eighth and the Braves had a 4-0 lead. Minor had outpitched CC Sabathia, the ace of the Yankees' staff, and the Braves were on the doorstep of an extremely encouraging victory.
"Minor was outstanding," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He was really good. He did a terrific job. It was a shame he didn't get the 'W.'"
What happened after Minor departed the Turner Field mound amounted to a series of competitive catastrophes for the Braves. Venters gave up a single, a walk and then a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. In the blink of an eye, an apparent Atlanta victory was turned into a 4-4 tie.
The damage was far from done, however. Venters gave up a single to Robinson Cano before Gonzalez mercifully put Venters out of further danger. Cory Gearrin was next in from the Braves' bullpen. He gave up a two-run home run to Nick Swisher. Gonzalez was limited in his bullpen options, because reliever Eric O'Flaherty was not available due to a sore elbow. But one way or another, the evening had been transformed from a 4-0 victory into a 6-4 defeat.
"We needed to get a couple outs, then we could hand the ball over to [closer Craig] Kimbrel," Gonzalez said.
This was obviously a difficult defeat for the Braves. When Gonzalez was asked if this was the single worst loss of the season, he responded, "I think so." From the reaction among the crowd of 41,152 at Turner Field, a lot of the paying customers thought so, too.
But it was also a highly unfortunate no-decision for Minor. Careers have turned around in moments of far less magnitude than an Interleague matchup with the Yankees.
Minor, a 24-year-old lefty, has indisputable ability, but at times this season, he has struggled mightily. Coming into Tuesday night's start, he was 3-4 with a 6.57 ERA. Kris Medlen, who opened this season in the Braves' bullpen is being successfully stretched out into a starting role at Triple-A Gwinnett, so Minor's hold on a spot in the Atlanta rotation coming into this start could have been seen as tenuous.
A victory over the Yankees in a superbly pitched game could have been the perfect remedy for Minor. And he did his part, pitching superbly against an imposing lineup. After getting out of a two-on, one-out situation in the first inning, Minor was never in serious trouble. His command was excellent. His efficiency was commendable: 100 pitches, 68 for strikes. He mixed the fastball with curveballs and slider early, later mixed in changeups.
It was a mature, even masterful performance. It just didn't end well, but that was through no fault of Minor.
"I felt good tonight, I felt great, in fact," Minor said. "But it didn't end the way we wanted it to, so I can't feel that great about it."
Minor said that neither the identity of the opponents nor the situation with Medlen emerging as another rotation option troubled him in the least.
"I really didn't feel intimidated because it was the Yankees," he said.
The way he pounded the strike zone completely supported that contention.
Minor also said that since he could not control the situation with the rotation, there was no point in worrying about it. He said he was unaware that Medlen had started another game for Gwinnett on the same night.
"I've had a lot of bad starts this year, but they've seen me when I pitched well," Minor said of the decision-makers in Braves management. "They know what I have."
What Minor had was truly impressive Tuesday night, against the team with the best record in the history of Interleague Play. This kind of performance demanded a "W" for Minor, but the Braves' bullpen could not get two outs in the eighth inning before the Yankees had scored six runs.
But did this performance help secure Minor's place in the Atlanta rotation?
"We can talk about that [Wednesday]," Gonzalez said.
What the Braves should be talking about is how Minor outpitched Sabathia on a terrific June evening for baseball in Georgia. This kind of performance, at this level, suggests that sometime, somewhere, Minor is going to be a consistent winner in the Majors.
The Braves are trying to win a division with a talented but young rotation. At the moment, four Atlanta starters are 25 or younger. The development of young pitchers can be full of stops and starts, ups and downs. "But those guys don't become veterans unless you keep throwing them out there," Gonzalez said. You wonder if this philosophy will hold in the case of Minor.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.