You could say Matt Diaz is hot and you wouldn’t be lying. Diaz hit a big two-run homer and drove in three of the Braves’ four runs to back another solid start from Jair Jurrjens, giving the Braves a 4-1 win in the series opener.
Jurrjens worked from the stretch often in the early going due to singles from breaking pitches left up. He put two on in the first on a single and error but received a strong throw from Melky Cabrera that gunned David Eckstein at the plate following a second single. Jurrjens made his only mistake in the second inning when Chris Denorfia took him deep for a solo homer.
Wade LeBlanc had controlled the Braves through three, with the only threat coming in the third with runners on the corners, but he pitched out of it. He began leaving some changeups up in the zone in the fourth and it didn’t take long for Diaz to take advantage, hitting a two-run home run that put the Braves ahead. LeBlanc continued leaving the ball up after that but the Braves couldn’t put a run across, leaving two on in the fifth and one in the sixth.
After LeBlanc exited due to pitch count after six, the Braves struck for two insurance runs off Ryan Webb in the seventh. Martin Prado and Jason Heyward hit back-to-back doubles that scored Prado, and after the bases were loaded, Diaz singled in the fourth Braves run. Alex Gonzalez followed with an inning-ending double play.
After Jurrjens allowed the home run to Denorfia in the second, he bared down and pitched better, giving up two hits and two walks for the remainder of his outing. As was the case in his previous three starts, Jurrjens’ fastball was on point and he struggled early at spotting his breaking pitches, but settled down and found his groove. This is obvious by the seven strikeouts, his most since fanning nine in April against the Rockies. There’s just something about the West Coast teams that excites him. Jonny Venters and Billy Wagner followed with a scoreless inning apiece to shut the door.
Diaz went 2-4 with a homer and three RBIs. Heyward added three hits, including two doubles, and an RBI. It’s the first time in a long time that he has drilled balls like he did tonight. It’s definitely encouraging to see and could be the big step toward his full recovery. The rest of the offense was dormant, though they did manage four walks off LeBlanc and six total. With how the Braves usually fare against lefties, they have to scrap for whatever they can get, and they did well with it tonight, if only just to run his pitch count up and get to the bullpen quicker.
Diaz is now 14-36 with six doubles, three home runs, and eight RBIs since his return. Perhaps the surprising part is only four strikeouts, though he hasn’t walked a single time, but that’s no surprise. He’s good for a .829 SLG and 1.229 OPS in 35 at bats in July. Please put this guy in a production spot against lefties.