ATLANTA — Mike Minor allowed two runs in six innings of his belated season debut Friday night, but the Braves left-hander found out quickly that’s no guarantee of success in this season of wildly inconsistent Atlanta offense.
After Freddie Freeman drove in a tying run in the bottom of the fifth inning, Michael Morse’s solo homer in the sixth gave the Giants a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 2-1 win to open a nine-game homestand at Turner Field, handing the Braves their fourth consecutive loss.
The Braves have had the majors’ best pitching so far, but have scored two or fewer runs in 11 of their first 28 games. They stranded 12 runners Friday, leaving two on base in an inning six different times.
Their final opportunity came in the ninth after B.J. Upton singled with two out and stole second base with Freeman batting. Closer Sergio Romo walked Freeman on a full-count pitch to put the potential winning run on first base and bring up hot-hitting Justin Upton, who struck out looking to end the game.
Minor was activated Friday from the disabled list, where he began the season after developing shoulder tendinitis in the first week of spring training. He gave up seven hits and no walks with four strikeouts Friday, and threw 55 strikes in 80 pitches before leaving for a pinch-hitter with two on in the sixth.
In his return to the major league mound Minor was greeted rudely by Angel Pagan, who homered on the second pitch of the game. Hunter Pence followed with a lined single on the next pitch, but after that Minor settled into a groove and gave the Braves reason to believe their 2013 strikeout and innings leader is ready to pick up where he left off.
Minor struck out Pagan with two runners in scoring position to end the second inning, and the Giants didn’t get another runner past second base until Morse’s home run to the right-field bleachers in the sixth inning, the seventh homer of the season for the former Nationals slugger.
The Giants threatened again in the seventh after rookie reliever Ian Thomas walked the first two batters in the inning. One sacrifice bunt later, Anthony Varvaro entered the game and struck out Pagan and Pence consecutively to get out of the jam.
While Minor was getting back into the swing of things, the Braves continued a penchant for all-or-nothing offense, wasting scoring opportunities in the first and second innings.
They have been the majors’ worst-hitting team with runners in scoring position and two outs, with a .132 average in 91 at-bats before Friday. But at the same time, Freddie Freeman was the National League’s individual leader in that category, going 4-for-7 before Friday.
So it wasn’t overly surprising when the Braves had two runners in scoring position in the first inning and Chris Johnson grounded out. Or when they had two runners on in the second inning and Jason Heyward popped out.
Or when they had two on with one out in the fifth and B.J. Upton flied out.
That brought to the plate Freeman, who delivered a game-tying RBI single that made him 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Justin Upton followed by lining out to left field.
After Morse put the Giants back ahead in the sixth, the Braves got a two-out walk and a Gerald Laird single in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Doumit pinch-hit for Minor and flied out to end the inning, and Johnson’s strikeout with two on to end the seventh.
Braves other than Freeman are a collective 8-for-90 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
The Braves are also last in the league in sacrifice bunts with four, and that deficiency also reared its head when Minor struck out on a fouled bunt attempt after Laird’s one-out walk in the fifth. Heyward followed with a single that only put two runners on instead of driving one in, and they had to settle for one run in the inning on Freeman’s two-out single.
After Heyward’s leadoff single in the eighth inning, B.J. Upton was up next and botched a bunt attempt before striking out.