Chalk up another plus Wednesday afternoon for the Royals’ rebuilt rotation after Wade Davis sparkled for seven innings in a 1-0 victory that ended Atlanta’s 10-game winning streak.
Give a nod, too, to beleaguered relievers Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland for protecting that lead over the final two innings at Turner Field.
“When we’re facing tough pitchers,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “you’ve got to be able to win 1-0 or 2-1 games. This is how you draw it out. Wade goes seven, Kelvin in the eighth and Greg in the ninth.”
Francoeur’s two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, against Braves starter Mike Minor, provided the game’s only run.
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Davis, 2-0, baffled the homer-happy Braves with a heavy dose of cut fastballs before handing the lead to Herrera to start the eighth.
“I started going to the cutter a lot,” Davis said, “because it was the only pitch I could get down. If I hadn’t had that, I would have left a lot of balls up and out over the plate. So I was thankful we had that pitch to go to.”
It was a dominant performance from the guy often viewed as the “other pitcher” acquired by the Royals in their big offseason trade with Tampa Bay.
“He really did a nice job of moving them off the plate on the inside and then painting the outside corner,” manager Ned Yost said. “It was just a phenomenal job of big-league pitching.”
Herrera got a quick chance to rebound from his three-homer implosion in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss, when the Royals believe he tipped his pitches — in addition to missing badly on his location.
Atonement didn’t come easily. Herrera immediately fell behind 3-0 on Andrelton Simmons, who led off the inning, before fighting back for a strikeout.
“You just stay focused and throw strikes,” Herrera said. “I have confidence in what I can do. (Tuesday) was just a bad day. Today, I was able to throw the ball downhill.”
Herrera also benefited from a borderline call by umpire Doug Eddings on a 3-2 pitch to Simmons. The Braves squawked a lot about Eddings’ strike zone, which seemed to float into the right-handed batter’s box.
“I’ve known Doug ever since I’ve been in the league,” Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla said. “He’s a good umpire, but you don’t always agree with the calls.”
That strikeout on Simmons was big because pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena followed by punching a single to right, which turned over the lineup, but Herrera steadied.
B.J. Upton popped a 3-1 pitch to second before Jason Heyward, who started Herrera’s nightmare on Tuesday, grounded into a force at second.
The Royals threatened in the ninth against Cory Gearrin when one-out singles by Salvy Perez and Lorenzo Cain — his third hit — put runners at first and second.
Gearrin escaped by getting Francoeur to ground into a double play, which meant Holland had no wiggle room in the ninth after yielding four runs on five hits and six walks over three innings in four previous appearances.
He didn’t need any.
Holland struck out the side in a one-two-three inning for his third save, which enabled the Royals, 8-6, to gain a split in the two-game series before they head to Boston for three weekend games.
“I’ve felt pretty good,” Holland said. “I’ve just been a little too worried about not walking guys and, in turn, I’ve been walking guys. I just had to get back to doing what I’ve normally done for the last couple of years.”
Three up, three down with three strikeouts.
“Holland?” Perez echoed. “He’s back.”
The game’s key play came in the seventh. Davis and the Royals were clinging to their one-run lead when Juan Francisco punched a two-out single into right.
Chris Johnson followed with a blooper into short right along the line that eluded a diving effort by second baseman Chris Getz. The ball spun toward the tarp against the wall.
When it did, Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker chose to try to score Francisco from first.
“It had that cue spin,” Getz said, “and it shot off between the tarp. I go over there and pick it up. Everything seemed pretty calm, and I looked up and the guy was running home, but I felt like I had plenty of time.
“I just needed to put it in the vicinity. I did that and got the out.”