BOSTON -- Hoping that Mike Minor would regain the promise he created during the first few weeks of the season, the Braves have remained patient with the southpaw. But with their rotation now filled with uncertainty, they may not be able to afford to continue sending him to the mound every five days.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was not ready to commit to any rotation changes while talking to reporters a short time after Minor surrendered three homers in Sunday's 9-4 loss to the Red Sox, but he did acknowledge the need to gain more consistency from what has been a less-than-stable starting rotation.
"For us to be consistent, we've got to have starting pitching," Gonzalez said. "We've got to go two or three times through the rotation with good outings. We can't go time-and-a-half and then all of the sudden have one starter or two starters giving you three innings or something like that."
The Braves were feeling good on Friday night when Jair Jurrjens returned to the Majors and produced a strong start that led to their third consecutive win. But less than 24 hours after Randall Delgado endured the shortest start of his career, Minor increased concerns about the Atlanta rotation by allowing three home runs, two of which were hit by Cody Ross.
With Delgado and Minor in the midst of their first full season at the big league level, the Braves know there will be some growing pains. But it was seemingly easier for them to deal with these pains when their rotation included Brandon Beachy, who was leading the Majors in ERA before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last week.
If the Braves want to make a quick fix they could substitute either Delgado or Minor with Kris Medlen, who was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett at the beginning of this month to stretch out to be a starting pitcher. But less than 20 minutes after this loss, Gonzalez was not ready to discuss this possibility.
"I feel like I'm learning," Minor said. "This is my first year being up with the team the whole time. It would obviously be a disappointment if they took me out of the rotation, but if they did, I'll do what I've always done, work hard and try to get back up there. "
The Braves can take some satisfaction in the fact that they at least split this six-game road trip that pitted them against the Yankees and Red Sox, but the struggles Delgado and Minor endured during the final two days in Boston prevented the team from returning to Atlanta with some much-needed momentum.
Minor limited the Red Sox to two singles through three innings and then issued consecutive walks to open the bottom of the fourth. Three pitches later, Boston gained a four-run lead courtesy of the back-to-back home runs hit by Ross and Adrian Gonzalez.
The fifth inning could have developed much different had Andrelton Simmons not dented the Red Sox's dugout with an errant throw after fielding Kelly Shoppach's grounder. The miscue proved costly as Will Middlebrooks was rewarded with a sacrifice fly on what could have been the inning's final out. Ross followed with his second home run of the day.
"We've got to cover it up," Gonzalez said. "As a pitching staff or as a pitcher, we've got to cover that up. Nobody is going to go out there without making mistakes."
Seventeen of the 18 home runs Minor has surrendered this year have come during his past 10 starts. Though he produced encouraging starts against the Marlins and Yankees earlier this month, he has produced a 7.45 ERA during this same span.
Minor said he had felt good in each of his four previous starts, but he struggled with his ability to command his fastball on the inner-half of the plate during this outing against the Red Sox.
"Somehow, someway we've got to get over the hump there," Gonzalez said. "I keep saying the 'young pitcher' phrase, but we've got to get him over the hump somehow. The young man is pretty talented and a pretty competitive guy."
After the Red Sox constructed their four-run fourth inning, the Braves came back to tally three runs off Boston starter Aaron Cook in the fifth inning. But any hopes of a comeback were erased when the Red Sox struck for three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Jason Heyward's three-hit performance paced the Braves' offense. The red-hot outfielder opened the three-run fifth inning with a single that put him in position to score on Eric Hinske's two-run triple off the center-field wall. Heyward added a home run in the sixth inning and ended a triple short of the cycle after striking out in the eighth inning.
With their offense scoring four runs in each of the final two games in Boston, the Braves could have swept the Red Sox or at least garnered the one win that would have secured a winning road trip. But instead they traveled back to Atlanta with some concerns about their rotation.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.