MIAMI -- Coming off an untimely and disheartening defeat, the Braves turned to the least experienced member of their rookie-heavy starting rotation and watched him provide a determined effort that strengthened their bid to preserve a once-comfortable lead in the National League Wild Card race.
Granted an early cushion, Randall Delgado displayed veteran poise as he tossed five scoreless innings and notched his first career victory to help Atlanta claim a much-needed 4-0 win over the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Braves maintained a 2 1/2-game NL Wild Card lead over the Cardinals, who beat the Mets, 11-6. With seven games remaining, Atlanta's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is six.
"Today was a big game," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "There's no doubt about it. Randall set the tone and we swung the bats well. It was a good night for the team."
Instead of being burdened by the hangover from closer Craig Kimbrel blowing a save with two outs in the ninth inning of Monday night's 6-5 loss, the Braves stormed out of the gates looking like a team determined to halt their recent struggles and prevent an epic late-season collapse that would deny them a second straight trip to the postseason.
Fueled by a three-run second inning against Anibal Sanchez, the Braves notched just their seventh win in their past 19 games.
"I really felt confident that we were going to win today," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I felt like Delgado was going to pitch well. We've had pretty good luck off Sanchez. All signs pointed to a win for me tonight."
This game seemed to be just what the Braves needed to halt their recent frustrations. After Delgado allowed five hits in his five scoreless innings, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro each tossed a pair of scoreless innings to end the game and allow key fatigued members of the bullpen to get a night of rest.
Top setup man Jonny Venters coughed up the lead with two outs in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, while Kimbrel suffered a blown save after being one strike away from victory Monday night. The two All-Star relievers entered the day ranking first and second in the Majors in appearances.
"I can't say enough about everyone who came in and pitched tonight," McCann said.
The one setback for the Braves came in the sixth inning when red-hot shortstop Alex Gonzalez was forced to exit with a right calf strain that could cause him to miss a couple games. Before aggravating the strain he first felt this past weekend, Gonzalez sparked the decisive three-run second inning with a leadoff homer. He has batted .466 (14-for-30) with four doubles and three homers in his past eight games.
Along with making some nice catches in right field, Jason Heyward fueled the second inning with a double that put him in position to score on Michael Bourn's double. Martin Prado capped the second-inning uprising with an RBI single as part of his three-hit game.
"I'm proud of the guys the way we bounced back tonight," Jones said. "I still would have liked to have seen us score seven or eight and make it a laugher, but we'll take it anyway we can get it. I thought we swung the bats pretty good."
The early advantage gave Delgado the comfort he needed while making his sixth career start in what felt like a must-win game for the Braves. The 21-year-old showed no apprehension as he allowed five hits and escaped numerous jams during his five-inning effort.
After walking the dangerous Mike Stanton to load the bases in the third inning, Delgado breathed a sigh of relief when Logan Morrison's liner to a well-positioned Gonzalez resulted in an inning-ending double play.
"I'm happy," said Delgado, who began this year with Double-A Mississippi. "It was a good win for the team, too. There was a little added pressure. But after a couple innings, I tried to forget that and just tried to win."
Still learning how to prove efficient enough to keep his pitch count down in the early innings, Delgado has lasted just five innings in each of the four starts he has made this month. But Tuesday marked the fourth time in his past five starts that he has allowed one or zero runs.
"What impresses you about him is he expects to go out there and do that," McCann said. "To have that mindset at a young age is very impressive."
It looked like the Braves might be headed toward another frustrating evening when they were unable to score after putting runners on second and third base with nobody out in the first inning. But they immediately stormed back in the second frame against Sanchez, who entered the game having allowed just two runs in his previous 21 innings.
The Braves added an insurance run when Freddie Freeman drilled his 20th homer with one out in the sixth inning. The 22-year-old first baseman needs four more extra-base hits to match the Atlanta rookie record Ron Gant set with 55 in 1988.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.