• Exclusives

    Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor lifting Braves pitching

    By Andrew Hirsh

    With Tim Hudson on the disabled list and Jair Jurrjens pitching poorly enough to earn a demotion to Triple A Gwinnett, the lack of production from the Braves’ two most valuable starters could have spelled trouble in the early portion of the 2012 schedule. But here we are, 19 games into the season, and Atlanta finds itself near the top of the National League standings.

    In addition to the strong offense exhibited over the past several weeks, the dominance of Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor have been among the biggest contributors to the Braves’ recent success, giving Fredi Gonzalez the quality pitching necessary to preserve a winning record thus far.

    Beachy has been fantastic since his 2012 debut, maintaining an ERA slightly above 1.00 through his first four starts and going 2-1 in the process. His overall game has developed quite a bit since last October, and his maturity—particularly his mental maturity—has been palpable of late.

    After averaging an eye-popping 10.7 K/9 innings last year, Beachy has yet to strike out more than six batters in a given start in ’12, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By sacrificing strikeouts for a lower pitch count and higher efficiency, he’s been able to take the next step in his career and become a more accomplished player. With batters hitting a mere .191 against, the Indiana product has put himself on track to not only become one of the best pitchers in Atlanta, but perhaps one of the best in the game.

    No longer inexperienced nor particularly young, Beachy has started to look like a veteran capable of greatness, displayed both on the stat sheet and in his general demeanor on the mound. Give credit to Roger McDowell for much of the 25-year-old’s success, as he’s developed at an incredible pace since his first MLB start in 2010.

    Minor, who made some ill-advised comments in the offseason regarding his future with the Braves, has put past doubts to rest and provided reason to believe he could be a permanent member of this rotation. Setting aside a rough season opener, Minor has been been as good as Braves fans could’ve hoped this year, quickly becoming a valuable member of this Atlanta pitching staff.

    Since allowing six runs in five innings in his first appearance of the season, the former first round pick has conceded only four earned runs in his past three starts, including two masterful performances in which he allowed just one run in 15.1 combined innings.

    While neither Beachy nor Minor earned a decision in their respective starts in Los Angeles this week, their strong performances led to two wins against a Dodgers team that had not lost at home prior to the Braves’ arrival. The series win at Dodgers Stadium over arguably the strongest opponent they’ve faced so far sealed an impressive 5-2 road trip for Atlanta.

    After exploding offensively against the Brewers, Mets and Diamondbacks, the Braves found it more difficult to score against the upstart Dodgers. Top-notch pitching performances were required to leave LA with a series win, and Beachy & Minor provided just that, allowing three and two runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

    With Beachy and Minor impressing and Hudson set to make his first start of the season this weekend, the Braves’ staff figures to once again be among the very best in the league.

    Couple this dominance on the mound with the hitting we’ve seen, and you have yourself a very strong ball club.

    Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewhirsh

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