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Gattis, Francisco help Braves win sixth in a row

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- The Atlanta Braves are getting major contributions from players who are not a part of their core stars, which helps explain why the team has reeled off six straight wins.

Evan Gattis and Juan Francisco slugged home runs during the Braves' six-run fifth inning as Atlanta defeated the Miami Marlins 8-0 before an announced crowd of 13,810 at Marlins Park on Wednesday night.

Gattis is playing in place of injured catcher Brian McCann, and Francisco is playing every day at third of instead of platooning with Chris Johnson, who is now at first in place of injured Freddie Freeman.

In addition, center fielder Jordan Schafer, who had only one at-bat entering Wednesday, went four for five and started the fifth-inning rally with a bunt single.

"Our bench is pretty darn good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've got some depth."

Partly because of that depth, the first-place Braves (8-1) swept the last-place Marlins (1-8) in three games in a mismatched battle between NL East rivals.

The win went to left-handed starter Mike Minor (2-0), who combined with two relief pitchers to toss a seven-hit shutout. Minor pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, one walk and no runs, lowering his ERA to 0.69.

Minor worked around leadoff doubles by Placido Polanco in the second inning and Chris Valaika in the third. He left with two out in the sixth and two runners on -- Donovan Solano and Polanco, both of whom had singled.

Reliever Cory Gearrin came on to retire the next batter, Miguel Olivo, on a strikeout. Gearrin pitched 1 1/3 innings and was followed on the mound by Anthony Varvaro.

"It was OK," Minor said of his start. "It was one of those nights when my curveballs and sliders weren't there, and I threw more changeups than normal."

The Marlins scored just two runs in the series and were shut out twice.

The Braves' big fifth inning started when Schafer singled and stole second. He scored on Andrelton Simmons' single.

After a walk by Jason Heyward, Gattis pulled an inside pitch that went an estimated 404 feet for a three-run homer to left.

The barrage continued with a walk by Dan Uggla and Juan Francisco's massive two-run homer to center field that went an estimated 438 feet. He crushed a low pitch that was out over the plate, making the score 6-0.

Schafer said his role on the team is simple: Stay ready and, when called upon, get on base.

"I can't hit the ball to the 502 sign like I want," Schafer said, "unless I am standing on second base."

The Braves' six-run rally knocked out Marlins pitcher Alex Sanabia (1-1), who had pitched four scoreless innings before running into major trouble. His final line: five innings, eight hits, three walks and six runs allowed on 81 pitches. His ERA went from 0.00 after six innings in his first start to 4.91.

Sanabia said he felt he rushed his pitches in the fifth inning, and everything came out "flat" as opposed to the movement he had earlier.

"It was a tough inning," Sanabia said. "To Gattis, it was enough over the plate for him to get to it. The one to Francisco was a cookie down the middle. I left it in the hitting zone."

Marlins manager Mike Redmond said his team has to start scoring runs to take the pressure off the pitchers, who right now are starting to think they have to be "perfect" to have a chance.

"We're just not executing," he said. "We have two guys out there and second base, and we can't get them over. It's frustrating. I know the guys are frustrated."

NOTES: The Braves acquired right-handed reliever Luis Ayala, 35, from the Baltimore Orioles. Ayala had a 2.40 ERA the past two years with the Orioles and Yankees. To get Ayala, the Braves traded Double-A left-hander Chris Jones, 24, who had a 3.90 ERA. ... The downward trend has already begun. The attendance of 13,810 bumped Tuesday's crowd of 14,222 as the smallest in the history of Marlins Park, the retractable-dome stadium that made its debut last year. ... Valaika made the start at first base Wednesday. The 27-year-old Californian, who normally plays third, shortstop and second, said he had never tried first base -- not even in Little League. ... Braves center fielder B.J. Upton, who started Atlanta's first eight games, was not in Wednesday's lineup. Schafer replaced him in center, and Simmons returned to the leadoff spot in the batting order. Upton is batting just .103 and was 0 for 9 in the first two games of the Marlins series. ... The Marlins' 16 runs are the fewest in the majors. That total is also just one more than former Marlins catcher John Buck has in terms of RBI so far this season with the New York Mets.
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