NEW YORK -- When facing the Braves during his most dominant years, Johan Santana ran into some tough luck and found it difficult to garner wins. Now as he attempts to prove his surgically repaired left shoulder is sound, he finds it a challenge to get through the second inning against the Braves.
Santana was anything but impressive as the Braves chased him during a seven-run second inning that propelled them to a 9-3 win over the Mets on Saturday night at Citi Field. This marked the second time this season that the former Cy Young Award winner recorded just four outs before being knocked out by Atlanta's patient and potent lineup.
"He had trouble with his changeup tonight early," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We got into some counts and got some pitches in the middle of the plate to hit. We bled a few in, but it was not a typical Johan [start]."
Michael Bourn notched his second three-hit performance of the week and Kris Medlen strengthened his bid to remain in Atlanta's rotation with yet another strong start. But as the Braves rolled to their 14th win in their past 17 games, the most impressive contributions might have come from Freddie Freeman, who matched a career-high with five RBIs and hit one of the longest home runs in his young career.
"Little by little, this guy is growing up and maturing as a hitter in the Major Leagues right in front of our eyes," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Santana was charged with eight earned runs and eight hits while lasting just 1 1/3 innings -- matching the shortest outing of his career that he endured on April 17 in Atlanta. The veteran left-hander looked shaky while making his first start since going on the disabled list in late July with a sprained right ankle. He surrendered singles to five of the final six batters he faced, including Medlen.
In the 12 starts Santana made against the Braves before undergoing major shoulder surgery late in the 2010 season, he was 3-6 with a 2.28 ERA. He blanked the Braves over five scoreless innings on Opening Day this year. But in the three subsequent starts, he has allowed 18 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
"It was a long night for me," Santana said. "Just sitting here and not being able to be out there performing and helping, it's tough. But at least I'm back."
After Santana recorded consecutive strikeouts in the first inning, Freeman drilled a two-out, two-run double down the right-field line. While that might have been his most important at-bat of the night, his most impressive occurred one inning later, when he greeted Jeremy Hefner with a three-run home run that sailed over the apple beyond the center field fence.
"I'm going to have to say that's as good as I can hit one there," Freeman said. "I don't how far that one went. But if you guys say something like 400 [feet], I'm going to be upset."
While the Mets did not announce a distance, Freeman's titanic shot appeared to travel an estimated 450 feet Two at-bats into this lopsided victory, the 22-year-old first baseman had hit this memorable home run and matched the career-best RBI total he had set on April 19 in Arizona.
Though he was bothered by vision problems and a badly bruised left index finger for approximately a month this year, Freeman is on pace to record 106 RBIs. He has batted .329 with five home runs and a .937 OPS in his past 44 games.
"He's taking that next step toward stardom," Jones said. "He's going to drive in 100 runs and that's pretty big for guys in the middle of the lineup, especially young guys. Do it once and get some confidence and know that you can do it every year. Freddie is a guy if he stays healthy, he could run off a few 100-RBI seasons in a row."
Medlen has also continued to provide reason to believe he could be every bit as valuable to the rotation as he has been to the bullpen this year. He surrendered three second-inning singles that led to the only run the Mets scored during his 6 1/3-inning effort. But from there, he retired 13 of the final 16 batters he faced.
In the three starts Medlen has made since moving from the bullpen, he has surrendered just three runs in 16 1/3 innings. This was his longest start since he lasted 6 2/3 innings against the Phillies on July 7, 2010, approximately one month before he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
With Tommy Hanson positioned to rejoin the rotation next weekend, Medlen might make just one more start before returning to the bullpen.
But Medlen is giving the Braves reason to ponder going with a six-man rotation for a short time or possibly bump another member. The Braves have won each of the 14 games he has started dating back to May 29, 2010.
"He's a valuable piece," Gonzalez said. "If everybody is pitching the way that they're pitching, it's going to be a tough decision whether we go with five or go with six."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.