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ATL@MIL: Fielder ruled safe on Kotsay's single

MILWAUKEE -- There is still every reason to believe Mike Minor has a bright future for the Braves. But there was also a very valid reason why the Braves felt the highly touted young left-hander needed to begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Making an emergency start in place of Jair Jurrjens on Wednesday night at Miller Park, Minor experienced some horrific control problems that only compounded the first-inning frustrations that the Braves endured en route to suffering a 5-4 loss to the Brewers.

"We just came up a little short," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We played good. We played well enough to win. We just got a raw call and didn't have a good first inning."

Video replays showed the Braves were justified to dispute plate umpire Bill Miller's ruling that Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder avoided catcher Brian McCann's tag while attempting to score on Mark Kotsay's fifth-inning RBI single.

Still while Fielder's run proved decisive for the Brewers, the Braves exited this second consecutive loss knowing that they had squandered too many opportunities to be overly agitated by a blown call. If not for Jason Heyward's three-run homer in the sixth inning, they may have allowed Marco Estrada to escape his third career start having allowed just one run.

Estrada wasn't even brought to Brewers Spring Training as a non-roster invitee this year. But the 27-year-old right-hander was able to frustrate the Braves enough to prove successful in his role as the rotation replacement for the injured Zack Greinke.

"We had some opportunities," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It just didn't happen. Sometimes that's just the way it goes."

After Martin Prado and Jones doubled off Estrada in the first inning, Jones was thrown out attempting to score on a Brian McCann single. This simply started the first-inning woes for the Braves, who saw Minor miss the strike zone with 12 of his first 14 pitches and walk the bases full before allowing Fielder's two-run single to left field.

Minor made eight Major League starts last year and pitched in some crucial situations for Team USA in international competition. But the 23-year-old left-hander who was selected seventh overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft said he's never experienced similar control problems.

"I guess it kind of scared me a little bit," Minor said. "I felt like I had the yips out there a little bit. I just couldn't throw the ball for a strike. I didn't know where to go from there. My mechanics felt OK. I was pulling off a little bit."

Minor escaped the first inning without any further damage and cruised through the next two innings without any problem. But Fielder produced a leadoff single that led to another run in the fourth inning and then chased the Braves' highly regarded prospect with a fifth-inning RBI single.

Brewers closer John Axford, who walked Heyward before notching his first save in a scoreless ninth, said he knew Fielder was going to have a productive night once he saw the big first baseman produce his first-inning opposite-field single.

"When you see something like that from 'P', you just know he's going to be on that night and everything's going to be right for him," Axford said.

With Jair Jurrjens on schedule to rejoin the Braves' rotation on April 16, this will likely be Minor's last start in the Majors for a while. He will now return to the Minors to work on finding consistency with his offspeed pitches.

After allowing the Brewers five earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, Minor said he felt good with his changeup but couldn't get a feel for the curveball.

"I feel like I let the team down," Minor said. "When you get a lead, you're supposed to come out that very next inning and shove it and put a zero on the board. Obviously I didn't do that."

Jones' first-inning RBI double served as one of the many moments during the first two innings when it seemed like Estrada was destined for a short night. But the 27-year-old right-hander's effort was aided when Carlos Gomez's throw from center field prevented Jones from scoring on McCann's single.

"Whenever you've got a guy on the ropes, me getting thrown out at the plate was a big play in the first inning," Jones said. "We had a chance to get two or three and set the tone for the game. Then they throw me out and we walk the first three batters of the game. So much for momentum."

Estrada escaped trouble again when he struck out Prado to end the second inning with runners at second and third base. This helped him get in a groove that allowed him to retire 11 of his 12 previous batters entering the sixth inning.

After Jones and McCann opened the sixth inning with singles, Heyward chased Estrada with the no-doubt, three-run shot that he lined into the seats above the right-field wall.

"I was on second and I saw him grip his fastball," Jones said. "With a 2-0 count, I was like, 'Oh boy, this is going a long way.' And it did.'"

Heyward's monstrous blast wasn't enough to overcome the damage incurred in the decisive fifth inning. Just before McCann seemingly tagged Fielder before he crossed the plate, Gomez was called out despite the fact that it appeared he avoided McCann's tag.

"I thought they were both out, but that's neither here or there," Gonzalez said.

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