Red Sox 8, Braves 4

Off to a good start

Morales submits second solid outing since joining rotation as Sox beat Braves

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 24, 2012
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He throws a pitch, he gets the ball back from the catcher, and then he throws another pitch.

Red Sox lefthander Franklin Morales doesn’t walk around, shake off the catcher or contemplate the mysteries of life while on the mound. Here’s up there to throw the baseball.

“I don’t waste too much time,’’ Morales said. “I don’t want the hitter thinking what is coming. I let go of my pitch.’’

The expedient approach was effective against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night as Morales threw six strong innings in an 8-4 victory.

That’s six victories in the last seven games for the Red Sox, two of those wins coming in games started by Morales.

In this season of unexpected twists, the 26-year-old from Venezuela has suddenly emerged as a reliable member of the rotation.

Morales (1-1) allowed two earned runs, walked one, and struck out eight for his first victory as a starter since 2009. In his start against the Cubs last Sunday, Morales gave up two runs in five innings and struck out nine without a walk.

Since 1985, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strike out at least eight batters in their first two starts of a season are Roger Clemens (1988) and Pedro Martinez (1998-2000).

“Franklin has always had one of the best arms on the team,’’ shortstop Mike Aviles said. “I think he has always wanted to start here and now he’s running with it. He’s blowing guys away.’’

Morales started 15 games for the Rockies over the first three years of his career before being consigned to the bullpen. That was his role for the Red Sox until manager Bobby Valentine decided to stretch him out.

When Josh Beckett went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, Morales stepped in. Along with that good tempo, he has shown a fastball in the mid-90s that doesn’t fade as his pitch count builds.

“For him to maintain velocity now twice, 80 pitches last time, 86 this time, is very impressive. That’s more than I expected,’’ Valentine said.

Morales said he has worked hard between starts, improving his stamina and maintaining the strength of his shoulder.

“Every inning when I pitch, I try and do the best that I can. I feel very good and I feel very excited,’’ he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for me to be a starter.’’

Good run support allowed him to challenge the Braves. The Sox collected 14 hits off five pitchers with eight players scoring and all nine starters getting on base at least once.

Rookie Will Middlebrooks stayed hot with three hits, including a home run. He is 10 of his last 14 with three homers and nine RBIs over six games.

“No one is this hot,’’ Valentine said. “The last thing you want to do is get him out of the lineup.’’

Dustin Pedroia emerged from his slump with three hits, a walk, and two RBIs.

Daniel Nava also drove in two runs with a single in the seventh inning that helped secure the eighth win in the last 10 games for the Sox.

“It’s fun to see the way we’re playing,’’ said Adrian Gonzalez, whose RBI single in the first inning pulled the Sox even at 1.

The most important inning for Morales was the first. He allowed a run but kept it from being much worse.

Michael Bourn led off with a single before Martin Prado walked. After a double steal, Brian McCann singled in a run.

Morales struck out Dan Uggla on four pitches and Freddie Freeman on three. Chipper Jones then lined to shortstop to end the inning.

“It was huge. We were looking at a potential big inning,’’ Valentine said.

It was the start of a stretch in which Morales retired 11 of 12 Braves, six by strikeout.

“After that inning, I had my confidence back and I threw my pitches,’’ said Morales, who didn’t allow another run until the fifth inning.

The Red Sox scored one run on three hits on Friday. They bettered that in the first inning against Randall Delgado (4-8).

Singles by Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Gonzalez accounted for the first run. Middlebrooks then doubled off the wall in left-center.

The Sox scored two more runs in the second inning, knocking Delgado out of the game.

Aviles singled before an unflinching Nava took a changeup off his right leg. Pedroia then doubled to the gap in left, driving in two.

The lead grew to 5-1 in the third inning when Middlebrooks drove a first-pitch fastball from Cristhian Martinez into the Monster Seats. It was the ninth home run of the season for Middlebrooks, his third in the last four games.

The ball was hit so hard that the Atlanta outfielders never moved. Some players hit their home runs high and others far. Middlebrooks hits them fast.

The Sox kept mashing in the fifth inning. Gonzalez and Middlebrooks singled off Martinez before Cody Ross doubled to center, driving in two.

Valentine said that depending on need, Morales could return to the bullpen this season. But he will stay in the rotation for now.

“Yes,’’ said the manager, who is most pleased with how his idea has played out. “Most assuredly.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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