video thumbnail

ATL@ARI: Saunders fans five over seven strong innings

PHOENIX -- Not even the return of Justin Upton could stop the bleeding for the slumping D-backs on Saturday.

Despite having their All-Star outfielder back in the lineup for the first time since Monday and Joe Saunders pitching another strong game, the D-backs lost their fifth straight, 3-2, to the Braves at Chase Field.

"We had our opportunities and then they shut us down," manager Kirk Gibson said. "We've been through it before and we have to push through. It's mind over matter right now."

The loss dropped Arizona below .500 for the first time in 2012 while the Braves won their fifth in a row and 10th in their last 11 tries.

Upton, who was sidelined with a right thumb injury, doubled in his first at-bat but then went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

"It was nice to be out there," he said. "But we'd like to win one."

Upton said the thumb didn't bother him during the game, but he showed frustration when asked how it felt afterward.

"At this point it doesn't matter, I'm playing the game," he said. "I don't like sitting on the sidelines and watching. I'm going to be smart about it, but I can't do any further damage to it, so I'm going to play."

Atlanta pitchers retired the last 19 D-backs they faced and struck out 13 all together, including the last six batters of the night.

Saunders pitched well enough to win, but an unearned run in the first inning proved to be the difference in the game.

"I felt good," Saunders said. "Especially the way things are going right now, you try to go out there and throw up as many zeros as you can. Unfortunately came up one run short."

The first Braves batter of the night, Michael Bourn, bunted for a base hit and Martin Prado followed with a single to center field to put runners on first and second.

Saunders then struck out Freddie Freeman and induced Brian McCann into a lazy ground ball to second base. But instead of turning a double play, Aaron Hill couldn't field the ball properly and all the runners reached safely. The error was Hill's second in as many days and third on the season.

Two batters later, Chipper Jones walked on four pitches to force in the game's first run. Saunders struck out Jason Heyward with the bases loaded to end the inning.

The D-backs answered in the bottom of the first when Miguel Montero hit a groundout to drive in Gerardo Parra, who had singled with one out and moved to third on Upton's double.

The Braves retook the lead in the second on a Prado RBI single, but the D-backs yet again responded to tie the game in their half of the inning on Jason Kubel's first home run of the year.

After Dan Uggla hit a homer to left field on a first-pitch changeup in the third to give Atlanta a 3-2 advantage, Saunders quelled the Braves' lineup for the next four innings before A.J. Pollock pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh.

Saunders finished his day throwing seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits, striking out five and retiring the last nine batters he faced.

"When runs are at a premium, the pitching staff has to step up," he said. "Especially against a team like that, if you get to their bullpen, it's going to be tough to score."

The D-backs failed to put a runner on base the final six innings of the game.

Braves starter Tommy Hanson left after seven innings of five-hit, two-run work.

"There was a lot of good pitching and not very many good swings at the ball," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We were back and forth the first couple of innings and were not able to get a shutdown until the third with Tommy. He settled in and then was really good."

Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel pitched the final two innings and struck out every D-backs batter they faced.

"They were pretty dominating," Gibson said. "But when you try too hard, you overthink it and it's hard to hit that way."

MLB.com Comments