ATLANTA (AP)—This is what the Braves had in mind when they upgraded their bullpen.
Four Atlanta relievers blanked the Philadelphia Phillies over the final four innings, and the Braves held on for a 4-3 victory Wednesday night to maintain their lead in the NL East.
But it was the bullpen that really stood out after Chuck James held the Phillies scoreless through five, then failed to get an out in the sixth.
Ryan Howard tied it with a three-run homer, and Braves manager Bobby Cox quickly turned to his relievers. That was it for the Phillies’ offense.
Chad Paronto (1-0) gave up a walk but erased it with a double play. Tyler Yates cruised through the seventh, fanning Jimmy Rollins for the third out. Mike Gonzalez struck out two in the eighth, including Howard swinging. And Rafael Soriano got his second save with a scoreless ninth, though he was lone reliever to give up a hit.
Last season, the Braves blew more saves than any NL team. This season, they’re eager to make the call to the bullpen, even with closer Bob Wickman on the disabled list.
Gonzalez, acquired from Pittsburgh during the offseason, and Soriano, who was picked up from Seattle, are both perfectly capable of shutting down things at the end.
“I know that last year the bullpen was a problem,” Soriano said. “That was one of the reasons they made the trades to get me and Gonzalez. Now, they feel comfortable with the guys they have in there.”
After slumping through April, Howard showed signs of breaking out with his towering homer off James on a high changeup.
“I believe I could have hit that one out,” Cox said.
Then again, Howard struck out in his other three at-bats, twice against James.
“He made one mistake. He left it up,” Howard said. “I’m sure he would like to have that one back, but I’d like to have my other three back.”
Harris, who was called up from the minors Sunday, delivered a bases-loaded single up the middle to reclaim the lead for Atlanta. In the ninth, Harris made a diving catch in left on a liner by Wes Helms, sliding along the grass on his stomach with the glove held high.
“I’m trying to make a good impression,” Harris said. “I wanted to come in and get off to a good start. That’s huge.”
For the second night in a row, the Braves jumped to a 3-0 lead. Again, Jones was right in the middle of things. He doubled to left-center off Freddy Garcia (1-2) in the third, driving home Kelly Johnson and Edgar Renteria.
Jones, plagued by injuries the last three seasons, is hitting .353 (18-for-51) with six homers during a 12-game hitting streak. He’s had at least one hit in 24 of 27 games and leads the league with 10 homers.
James scattered five hits over the first five innings but ran out of gas in the sixth. Aaron Rowand singled, Chase Utley doubled and Howard went even deeper for just his fourth homer of the season. To that point, he was 0-for-9 with five strikeouts against James this season.
“Everybody has had my number. Who hasn’t?” said Howard, struggling along with .217 average. “Everybody knows I haven’t been hitting the ball very well.”
The Braves played without their top two catchers, both injured the previous night when struck by swinging bats. Brian McCann was hit on the left hand and Brayan Pena wound up on the disabled list with a concussion.
Atlanta called up top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Double-A and put him right in the lineup for his major league debut. “Salty” claimed the distinction of having the longest last name in baseball history—14 letters, for those counting.
Saltalamacchia, whose debut came on his 22nd birthday, had an eventful game. He drove one to the center-field wall in his first at-bat, but it was hauled in by Rowand. The rookie threw out a runner attempting to steal, got plunked on the upper right arm by a pitch and was thrown out at the plate to end the sixth.
“You’re always going to have nerves your first game in the big leagues,” he said. “After that first at-bat, I settled down a little bit.”
RF Shane Victorino, who had just come into the game on a double switch, made a perfect throw to the plate to get Saltalamacchia, who tagged and tried to score on a fairly deep flyout by Kelly Johnson. … Garcia has not lasted more than five innings in any of his four starts. … James threw 103 pitches in five-plus innings. … Renteria scored twice and extended his hitting streak to 12 games.