Rizzo looks to continue his hot hitting as the surging Cubs go for a series victory against Jones and the sputtering Braves in the finale of this four-game set at Turner Field on Thursday night.
Chicago's most promising prospect, Rizzo has lived up to the hype since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa last week. The 22-year-old first baseman is hitting .323 with three homers and six RBIs in eight games.
He had two hits and his solo shot was one of three homers in Wednesday's 5-1 victory, the Cubs' seventh in nine games.
After trailing fifth-place Houston by six games on June 25, Chicago (31-50) is now within a half-game of climbing out of the cellar.
"You have a team that, since it's a little more stable, you'd like to have a goal of playing .500 baseball in the second half with the team we have to get a respectable record," manager Dale Sveum told the team's official website. "It's still a day-to-day game. You have the goal of winning series, winning the first game of the series, and go from there."
The Braves (42-39) have dropped seven of 11 to fall from three games out to six back of first-place Washington.
Those struggles certainly can't be pinned on Jones. The 40-year-old has compiled a .439 average with seven doubles and nine RBIs while hitting safely in his last 11 games.
He'll try to top those marks in his first look at Matt Garza (4-6, 4.01 ERA), who is 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA in his last six road starts compared to 2-1 with a 2.50 ERA in his six home outings. Garza has allowed 11 homers in 50 road innings while yielding just one in 39 2-3 at Wrigley Field.
The right-hander battled through his latest outing at home Saturday, allowing two runs and nine hits with three walks while throwing 104 pitches in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-2 win over Houston.
Garza will be trying to lead the Cubs to a fifth win in seven games this season against the Braves, and strong pitching has been the key to that success. Atlanta has totaled three runs in its four losses to Chicago.
"Sometimes, man, you meet a team that's playing good baseball," said Braves center fielder Michael Bourn , who has six hits and has scored five runs in this series. "That's what's happening right now."
Scoring runs hasn't been a problem for Atlanta when Mike Minor (4-6, 6.20) has taken the hill against the Cubs. Thanks to 11.88 runs of support, he's won all three of his starts in the series despite a 4.86 ERA.
The left-hander enters this meeting as the loser of two of his last three starts with a 7.04 ERA. He had yielded two runs in 12 1-3 innings in his previous two.
"It's just an up and down year for me," Minor said after walking a career high-tying five over five innings of Saturday's 7-5 win over Washington.
"I'm just trying to do my best every time I go out there and try to give the team a chance to win."
The Braves won't have the services of top setup man Craig Kimbrel , who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a left elbow impingement. The move came after he gave up his sixth homer of the season Wednesday.
Kimbrel is 3-3 with a 4.45 ERA and no saves this season.
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Sore left wrist|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|May 19, 2012||Welington Castillo||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|May 19, 2012||Welington Castillo||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|May 17, 2012||Geovany Soto||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus, left knee|
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 16, 2012||Brandon Beachy||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right elbow soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Freddie Freeman||Day-to-Day||Left thumb discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Eric O'Flaherty||Day-to-Day||Left elbow soreness|
|June 09, 2012||Tim Hudson||Day-to-Day||Bone spurs in left ankle|
|June 02, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
ATLANTA (AP) -- While the Atlanta Braves wore down Matt Garza with home runs and long at-bats, Mike Minor put together a confidence booster heading into the All-Star break.
Jason Heyward and Brian McCann each hit a two-run homer in the first inning, helping Minor and the Braves beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 on Thursday night.
Freddie Freeman and Juan Francisco also connected for Atlanta, which salvaged a split of the four-game series.
Minor (5-6) held the Cubs without a hit until the fifth and gave up three runs, two earned, and three hits in 6 1-3 innings overall. The left-hander has won consecutive starts after losing two in a row.
"He made his pitches when he needed to," McCann said.
Minor entered with an ugly 6.20 ERA after giving up four runs in each of his last three starts, putting his rotation spot in jeopardy.
"Every week I'm trying to get better," Minor said.
Due to Minor's struggles, manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked before the game if he needed a good start to protect his place in the rotation. Gonzalez said "every start is important" but said Thursday night's game wasn't especially crucial for Minor.
Gonzalez said after the game Minor should "go into the All-Star break feeling good about himself."
Garza (4-7), who could be one of the top starters on the market ahead of this month's trade deadline, allowed five runs and five hits in four innings. He struck out six and walked three while throwing 94 pitches.
Garza struck out Michael Bourn in the first, but the inning quickly unraveled from there.
Martin Prado hit a one-out single before Heyward drove a 1-2 pitch over the wall in right for his 14th homer. Freeman then singled to right and McCann sent another 1-2 offering over the wall in right for his 10th of the season.
Francisco ended the inning with a 16-pitch at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch until he finally hit a bouncer to first base.
"A couple pitches hit out of the ballpark and then the 16-pitch at-bat to Francisco kind of killed the whole outing, really," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Garza threw 44 pitches in the inning.
"I don't think he ever recovered from it," Gonzalez said.
Francisco added another long at-bat in the fourth. He made Garza throw 12 pitches before taking a walk.
"Two at-bats. We kind of got tired of him," Sveum said of Francisco. "Move on to the next guy."
Garza downplayed the effect of Francisco's long at-bats on his short night.
"That's just an at-bat," Garza said. "That's all it is. He battled, I battled. I won the first one, he won the second one. That's all it is."
Freeman had a solo shot in the third and Francisco went deep in the eighth against Manny Corpas.
Atlanta went 5-5 on its longest homestand of the season.
The Cubs' first hit off Minor was a homer by Geovany Soto with one out in the fifth.
"I wasn't really all that worried about the home run," Minor said. "I was trying to throw strikes. McCann set up in the middle and (Soto) hit it."
The Braves answered Soto's shot with a run off Scott Maine in the bottom half. Prado singled, moved to third on Heyward's single and scored on McCann's fly ball to right field.
Anthony Rizzo led off the seventh with a single off Minor, who then walked Alfonso Soriano . Minor struck out Bryan LaHair before he was replaced by Kris Medlen .
Pinch-hitter Reed Johnson delivered a two-out RBI single and Heyward made a wild throw to third base for an error, allowing Soriano to score.
There is new reason for Minor, Randall Delgado and perhaps other Atlanta starting pitchers to be wary. The Braves recently signed four-time All-Star Ben Sheets , who had mixed results for Double-A Mississippi in his first minor league start on Wednesday night. He gave up four runs in five innings but retired the last 10 batters he faced.
NOTES: The Braves placed LHP Jonny Venters on the 15-day disabled list with a left elbow impingement. The team recalled LHP Luis Avilan from Triple-A Gwinnett. ... Bourn finished second to David Freese of St. Louis in online voting for a spot on the NL All-Star team. ... Prado has an 11-game hitting streak. ... Sveum said he will announce Friday if Ryan Dempster will come off the disabled list to start on Sunday against the Mets. Dempster has been on the 15-day DL since June 18 with tightness in his right lat muscle. ... Atlanta opens a three-game series at Philadelphia on Friday night with Tim Hudson (6-4) facing the Phillies' Kyle Kendrick (2-8). ... The Cubs are at the Mets on Friday night with Travis Wood looking for his fourth win against New York's Johan Santana .