ATLANTA -- Starting pitchers take the mound on a nightly basis aiming to complete at least seven innings. When Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy did so on Saturday and Sunday, the Braves experienced what has been a rarity over the past year.
Before Minor or Beachy turned the trick, the Braves had not had starting pitchers last at least seven innings in consecutive games since Beachy and Tim Hudson on July 29 and 30. Tommy Hanson extended this streak with a seven-inning effort in Monday night's loss to the Mets.
This marks the first time the Braves have had starting pitchers go at least seven innings in three consecutive games since May 14-17 last season.
That stretch in May marked the only time last year that the Braves had starting pitchers complete at least seven innings in at least three consecutive games. This contributed heavily to the fact that the Braves ranked second among National League teams with 522 1/3 relief innings. The Pirates led the Senior Circuit with 526 innings.
"Bullpens are not made for you to use your middle guys or your long guys every night," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Nobody can sustain four or five days in a row like that. You end up pitching guys you don't want to pitch when you're down and vice versa."
Setup man Jonny Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel were unavailable on Sunday because they had worked four of the five previous days. Because Eric O'Flaherty and Kris Medlen had not been used on Saturday, they were going to handle the setup and closing duties in no particular order if Sunday's game had been tight during the final innings.
Each of these top four relievers remained idle during Sunday's and Monday's game. This could prove beneficial for the Braves as they are four days into a stretch of 13 games in 13 days.
Freeman glad to see Heyward start fast
ATLANTA -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman certainly has the credentials to be considered an expert in relation to Jason Heyward. The two were introduced as high school seniors and linked as they spent each of their first three professional seasons together in Atlanta's Minor League system.
Thus there was certainly reason to listen when Freeman evaluated what he has seen from Heyward, who entered Monday night's game against the Mets hitting .345 (10-for-29) with two home runs and a 1.079 OPS.
"What he's doing is what we all know [he can do]," Freeman said. "It's awesome. He's finally healthy, and you've gotten to see the Jason of 2010 and the Jason that I've gotten to see since 2006."
After spending most of January and all of Spring Training working with Braves new hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, Heyward entered this season knowing he would have to be patient. This proved necessary when he recorded three hits in his first 15 at-bats.
But while recording seven hits, including two home runs, in the 14 at-bats that have followed, Heyward has provided more reason to believe he has escaped some of the bad habits that developed as he battled right shoulder discomfort all of last year.
"He's having fun playing the game and he's healthy," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Last year, nothing was sticking out of his skin or anything. But he didn't feel right. This year, he is feeling good. ... When he has fun and hits, we have fun also."
Heyward hit just .192 (20-for-104) against left-handed pitchers last year. But he has five hits in his first 14 at-bats against southpaws this year. The 392-foot homer he hit directly down the right-field line in Sunday's win over the Brewers came against a changeup thrown by Milwaukee left-hander Chris Narveson.
Jurrjens encouraged by increase in velocity
ATLANTA -- Jair Jurrjens was certainly not satisfied when he extended his recent woes by allowing the Brewers five runs in five innings on Friday night. But the Braves right-hander was encouraged by the fact a jump in velocity was seen with the 92-mph fastball he used to strike out Ryan Braun in the first inning.
"How many times did I hit 92 last year?," Jurrjens said. "Maybe the first two games in the season?"
According to BrooksBaseball.net's PitchFX tool, the average velocity of Jurrjens' four-seam fastball rose from 87.53 in his April 7 season debut to 89.06 in Friday night's game.
Jurrjens' velocity began dipping when he began feeling discomfort in his right knee after last year's All-Star break. With his knee not providing any problems this year, the 26-year-old hurler is hoping to continue regaining life on his fastball.
"Everything is bouncing back good and I'm feeling good," said Jurrjens, who will make his third start of the season in Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Mets.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.