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Santana helps Braves immediately

The SportsXchange

ATLANTA -- Ervin Santana, who was signed midway in spring training after ace Kris Medlen was lost for the season, paid a quick and impressive dividend for the Atlanta Braves.

The veteran right-hander allowed three hits and no walks in eight scoreless innings during his debut and had six strikeouts as the Braves held on for a 4-3 victory over the New York Mets at Turner Field on Wednesday night.

"It's going to be nice to see him go out there 27 or so more times this season," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Santana, who had made one tuneup start for Triple-A Gwinnett, was razor sharp, throwing his first 20 pitches for strikes. He allowed one runner to reach second base and had just 23 of his 88 pitches miss the strike zone.

"I felt great. Everything was how I wanted," Santana said. "I was able to keep the ball down. ... In the bullpen I was all over the place, but once I crossed the lines I focused."

Right fielder Jason Heyward, who had been hitless in his previous 22 at-bats, blasted a leadoff homer against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler to stake Santana to an early lead and finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

The Mets, though, made it close in the ninth inning, scoring three times before closer Craig Kimbrel struck out shortstop Ruben Tejada for a shaky fourth save.

"Ervin threw a fabulous game," Kimbrel said. "I'm just frustrated I couldn't [complete the shutout]. We got him to dominate and that's what he did."

Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy doubled with two outs in the sixth for the only threat against Santana. But Heyward then made the key defensive play of the game with a diving catch on the warning track in right-center field to rob Mets third baseman David Wright of a run-scoring extra-base hit.

Santana had a 105-90 career record, including a no-hitter, in eight seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and one with Kansas City, going 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for the Royals last year.

Fortunately for the Braves, the 31-year-old from the Dominican Republic was still a free agent in March when Medlen, as well as Brandon Beachy, went down, and they signed Santana to a one-year deal worth $14.1 million.

Santana, who was excited about getting a chance to bat in the National League, delivered a single and scored a run to further highlight his Braves debut.

"He's been able to fit in right away," Gonzalez said.

Heyward fouled away four 3-2 fastballs in an 11-pitch at-bat before connect on a 96-mph offering from Wheeler for his second homer of the season and fourth career leadoff blast.

"It's a tough way to start the game, going that deep into the count and him hitting a home run," Wheeler said. "He just came out on top on that one."

The Mets' 4-0 victory in the series opener ended on Tuesday when Heyward, representing the potential tying run, hit a drive off closer Jose Valverde that died on the warning track in center field with the bases loaded.

Heyward, though, bounced back in a big way Wednesday. His third hit of the game -- matching his previous season total -- drove in the first of the Braves' three fifth-inning runs. First baseman Freddie Freeman plated the other two with the fifth hit of the inning off Wheeler.

"Every day is a new game and a new opportunity," Heyward said. "Both the home run and the catch felt good. They each helped us win."

Wheeler, who grew up northwest of Atlanta in Paulding County, pitched six scoreless innings against the Braves at Turner Field in his major league debut last June, then defeated them twice more in New York while finishing 7-5 as a rookie.

The right-hander struck out six and did not walk a batter this time, but allowed eight hits and four runs in five innings while falling to 0-2.

"Sometimes when you miss on your pitches they take advantage of it, sometimes they don't and you have a good game," Wheeler said.

Jordan Walden came in for Santana to start the ninth and gave up a walk and a hit before giving way with one out. Kimbrel walked the first batter he faced and then gave up two-out run-scoring hits to center fielder Juan Lagares and catcher Travis d'Arnaud before finally closing out the victory.

NOTES: Mets 3B David Wright, who recently battled the flu, broke an 0-for-13 streak with a fourth-inning single. ... The Braves optioned RHP Pedro Beato to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for RHP Ervin Santana. Beato, claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds last week, made his first appearance Tuesday and allowed one hit over 1 2/3 scoreless innings. ... Braves CF B.J. Upton, hitting .138, was out of the lineup for the first time this season. He was replaced by Jordan Schafer. ... Braves RHP David Hale, who is 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA in three major league starts dating to last September, will pitch the series finale Thursday against Mets RHP Jenrry Mejia. Mejia won his first start this year, allowing Cincinnati one run in six innings, while Hale got a no-decision after five scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals.
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