Hanson, Homers Power Braves Past Giants

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 21, 2009

DENVER - JULY 09:  Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves delivers against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action at Coors Field on July 9, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Braves 7-6.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Chipper Jones, Garret Anderson, and Ryan Church all homered to back a stellar 11-strikeout performance by rookie Tommy Hanson as the Atlanta Braves beat the San Francisco Giants 11-3 on Monday night.

The strikeout numbers hadn't really been there for Hanson since his call-up in early June. However, against the Giants, he used all of his pitches to record 11 K's in seven strong innings.

Hanson's fastball was clocked regularly from 94-96 mph and he twice got Edgar Renteria looking as he painted over the black on the outside corner. Mixing in a 76 mph curve and an 83 mph slider that dove at the toes of left-handed hitters' back feet, Hanson was able to keep the Giants at bay until the Braves' bats woke up in the seventh.

Hanson gave up three runs on five hits and walked three to go with his 11 strikeouts. He almost tiptoed his way out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the second, but Randy Winn dropped a two-out double into right center.

The other run scored in the seventh as Nate McLouth uncharacteristically misjudged a fly ball to center off the bat of Juan Uribe that turned into a triple. An Aaron Rowand sacrifice fly scored Uribe two hitters later, but Hanson prevented any further damage and left in the middle of the seventh with the game tied 3-3.

The Braves' early offense was provided by the long ball. Garret Anderson jumped on a high fastball for a solo home run in the third to cut the deficit to 2-1.

In the fourth, Nate McLouth singled with one out, stole second, and went to third on a groundout by Martin Prado. Chipper Jones hit another right-handed home run, this time to center, just out of the reach of Aaron Rowand to give the Braves a 3-2 lead.

With the game tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Yunel Escobar and Garret Anderson singled to start the inning. Matt Diaz fouled off two bunt attempts, before deftly hitting a line drive on a tough low and outside slider to right-center. When Diaz slid headfirst into third with a triple, the Braves had a 5-3 lead.

Casey Kotchman chased Giants' reliever Sergio Romo with an RBI single to right.

After a pitching change, Ryan Church pinch-hit for Hanson and golfed a line drive home run a few feet inside the foul pole to extend the Braves' lead to 8-3.

Nate McLouth followed Church's home run and walked, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Two outs later, he scored on an RBI single to center by Brian McCann for a 9-3 Braves lead.

In the eighth, Matt Diaz led off with a single, and Casey Kotchman reached on an error. Church, who stayed in the game after pinch-hitting in the seventh, stroked an RBI single to right center, scoring Diaz as Kotchman made it to third.

Nate McLouth capped the Braves scoring with a sacrifice fly, as Kotchman crossed the plate for an 11-3 lead. 

Mike Gonzalez and Kris Medlen each pitched a scoreless inning of relief to complete the victory. 

With the win, Tommy Hanson ran his record to 5-0, and tied for the high strikeout performance by a rookie in 2009 with 11. Toronto's Scott Richmond and Tampa Bay's David Price also notched 11 strikeouts in a game earlier this year.

With a little better performance from the bullpen on the last road trip, Hanson could have been 6-0, or 7-0 after tonight's start.

What the Braves hadn't seen up until tonight was the strikeout totals. His walks are a bit high, but the 1.27 WHIP after tonight's start is very respectable. Opponents are only hitting .215 off the right-hander, who improved his strikeout totals to 36 in 48 IP, 6.75 K/9 IP.

The other thing to notice is that while Chipper Jones hit his 11th home run of the season tonight, it was the seventh he's hit right-handed.

His average is about the same from each side of the plate, but his slugging percentage against lefties (batting right-handed) is 170 points higher.

Braves fans also have to like the new-look Braves lineup. Ever since Martin Prado established himself as the everyday second baseman and No. 2 hitter, Yunel Escobar has been hitting very well, hitting either fifth or sixth in the lineup depending on the opponent's starting pitcher.

Kelly Johnson's last start at second base was June 28 against Boston, and June 30 was the first day that Martin Prado essentially became the everyday second baseman, as Johnson went on the DL after the game on July 3.

In the month of July, and somewhat coinciding with his shift to a run-producing spot in the order, Escobar is hitting a robust .385, with an on-base percentage of .478 and slugging .718. The OPS so far this month totals a whopping 1.196, including 13 RBI in 14 games.

The way the lineup is now constructed does not have a lot of power, but plays to each hitter's strengths, and there are no easy outs from hitters one through eight. Nate McLouth's .258 average is the lowest of any regular, and he's hit the most home runs of anyone on the Braves so far this season with 14.

The Braves need that type of production and the RF platoon of Diaz and Church should work well, as hopefully tonight's home run and three RBI from Ryan Church gets his bat going. Garret Anderson's projections look pretty darn close to what the Braves expected when they signed him to an affordable one-year deal prior to the season.

The rest of the series features two pitching matchups that should favor the Braves. With Monday's victory, the Braves snapped a five-game losing streak to the Giants that included a sweep at San Francisco in May.

Derek Lowe (8-7, 4.40 ERA) will face Ryan Sadowski (2-1, 1.00 ERA) on Tuesday. Lowe pitched well each of his last two starts, getting a win in Colorado, and a no-decision as the Braves beat the Mets late on Thursday.

Sadowski pitched shutout ball in each of his first two starts, but lost his last start despite giving up only two runs at Florida. He hasn't pitched since July 8.

Wednesday will feature two of the best young pitchers in the NL. Jair Jurrjens (8-7, 2.77 ERA) has pitched better than his record indicates, while Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.27 ERA) has pitched just as well as his record indicates.

Jurrjens did not pitch in the series in May. Lincecum got the win in his start, throwing eight scoreless innings against Atlanta on May 29.

The series finale will see Kenshin Kawakami (5-7, 4.15 ERA) face lefty Barry Zito (5-10, 4.89 ERA). Kawakami has pitched very well in his last two starts, allowing only three ER in his last 12.2 innings, going 1-1, taking the loss on Saturday as Johan Santana was just better.

Zito has alternated good and bad outings his last four appearances, going 1-3 over that span. He pitched well against Pittsburgh on Saturday, but lost 2-0. His previous start saw him allow nine runs without getting through five innings against San Diego.

Zito leads the NL in losses with 10.

Realistically, the Braves could take two of the final three and finish 6-2 on the eight-game homestand if the offense can support Lowe and Kawakami. The Braves have had a lot of trouble with Lincecum before, but maybe if Jurrjens can match him, the Braves could do what they did Monday and get some hits against the Giants' bullpen.

Splitting the series would mean the Braves would head on a six-game road trip to face the struggling Brewers and Marlins as a .500 team. Atlanta would surely like some momentum and a winning record before setting out on the road.

They've gotten off on the right foot, winning four of five since the All-Star game and outscoring their opponents 35-12 over those five games.


    Turner (Broken Wrist) Likely Out Until May

    MLB logo

    Turner (Broken Wrist) Likely Out Until May

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Why Young Players May Increasingly Jump at Long-Term Offers

    MLB logo

    Why Young Players May Increasingly Jump at Long-Term Offers

    Buster Olney
    via ESPN.com

    Machado Explains His Move to Shortstop

    MLB logo

    Machado Explains His Move to Shortstop

    Jerry Crasnick
    via ESPN.com

    Why Braves' Fried Clearly Isn't MLB Ready

    Atlanta Braves logo
    Atlanta Braves

    Why Braves' Fried Clearly Isn't MLB Ready

    Joel Reuter
    via Bleacher Report