Long before anyone heard of OPS or WAR and eons before they came up with exit velocities and spin rates, there was Bartolo.
Big Bart or Big Sexy, call him whichever nickname you prefer, but call Bartolo Colon a legitimate big-time big-league pitcher still, with his 44th birthday just around the corner in May.
The oldest pitcher in baseball was on top of his game again Sunday in his first Braves home start, limiting the San Diego Padres to one hit, one run and one walk with six strikeouts in seven innings of a 9-2 win that pushed Atlanta’s winning streak to four games. The Braves are 3-0 at new SunTrust Park, where a crowd of 37,147 turned out Sunday.
“He got knocked out in his last start and he looked at me and was like, ‘Next time, Papi, next time,’” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, laughing. “And he definitely was right on about that.”
Tyler Flowers put the Braves ahead to stay with a two-run single in the fifth inning, Brandon Phillips had three hits and three RBIs and Ender Inciarte homered for the fourth time in four games.
Nick Markakis extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an RBI double in the eighth inning and rookie Johan Camargo added an RBI single – the first hit of his major league career – to cap the three-run inning.
For the Braves, the only negative Sunday was Flowers’ exit with a strained right hamstring after a seventh-inning double. He’ll be evaluated again Monday and the Braves hope it’s not an injury that will require a stint on the disabled list.
The Braves will go for a four-game sweep of the first series at SunTrust when left-hander Jaime Garcia faces the Padres’ Jered Weaver on Monday. They have a 5-6 record, after not getting their fifth win in 2016 until the 22nd game.
“The road trip wasn’t good, but we hurt ourselves,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves started out 2-6 on the road. “We’re playing better baseball now. We’re swinging the bats good, playing good defense, and the bullpen’s been really good.”
Colon gave up a one-out homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second inning, then recorded 17 outs in the last 17 batters he faced. He induced a double-play grounder by Hunter Renfroe after a leadoff walk in the fifth inning by Schimpf, the only Padre to reach base against Colon.
“As soon as I give up a hit or a home run, I immediately try to get it out of my mind,” Colon said through a translator, “because I can’t just focus on that mistake, I have to focus on the other hitters. I just focus on the next guy.”
Phillips, whose sixth-inning homer drove in the winning run Saturday, came up big again Sunday with a two-out, two-RBI hit in the sixth that turned a one-run lead into a three-run cushion for Colon and the bullpen, and when the Braves tacked on more runs Snitker was able to rest the key relievers he hoped to avoid using Sunday.
Padres starter Trevor Cahill, the second recent Braves pitcher to start for San Diego in the series, didn’t allow a hit until Phillips’ one-out single in the fifth.
But things came apart quickly for Cahill after Phillips’ hit in the fifth. Before Cahill finished walking the next batter, Adonis Garcia, Phillips stole second base and went to third on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch to Flowers allowed Garcia to advance to second, and Flowers lined a 2-2 pitch up the middle for a two-run single and 2-1 lead.
Inciarte sparked a two-run sixth inning with a leadoff single against Cahill, who left the game after Phillips’ two-run single pushed the lead to 4-1.
The Braves added more more runs in the seventh including Inciarte’s two-out solo homer that gave the center fielder more homers in his past four games (four) than he had in his first season with the Braves in 2016 (three).
For Colon, it was his second superb start in three for the Braves, sandwiched around a rough one. He limited his former Mets team to two hits and one run in six innings in a Braves win in the second game of the season, then got knocked around for seven hits and six runs in four innings in an 8-4 loss Tuesday against the Marlins.
After being hit hard by the Marlins, he was back Sunday to the vintage form of his improbable post age-40 career surge.
“He did that against us a lot, what he did today,” Freeman said, referring to Colon’s success against the Braves while with the Mets. “So it’s nice having him on our side. If he’s going to give up one, that’s usually all they get. He doesn’t make any mistakes and he keeps the ball in and out, changes speeds. I saw that a lot against us and I saw it again today.”