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May 11, 2016

Fill-in starter Perez shuts down Phillies as Braves record rare home victory

The Atlanta Braves, the worst team in baseball with just seven wins in their first 31 games entering play on Wednesday, traded away the pitcher originally scheduled to face the Phillies prior to the second game of the series between the two National East rivals.

The Braves sent Jhoulys Chacin to the pitching-depleted Los Angeles Angels for a minor leaguer earlier Wednesday afternoon. They still needed a pitcher to take the mound opposite Jerad Eickhoff at Turner Field later that night, so they summoned right-hander Williams Perez from Triple-A Gwinnett.

Williams Perez, who had an ordinary 4.78 ERA in 23 games with the team last year, his first year in the big leagues. Williams Perez, who had a 6.35 ERA in three starts against the Phillies in 2015, including a start when he allowed nine earned runs.

Perez was slightly better than that in his short-notice, spot start on Wednesday. He retired the first 12 batters he faced, and the only base runner he allowed through the game’s first seven innings came on a Ryan Howard solo home run, as Atlanta ended the Phillies three-game winning streak with a 5-1 victory.

The win was just the second in 18 games for the Braves at their home ballpark in the season’s first six weeks. After winning their first game at Turner Field on April 19, Atlanta had dropped 12 straight games at home prior to Wednesday.

But led by Freddie Freeman (3-for-4, a home run and two runs scored), Atlanta scored single runs in each of their first three at-bats against right-hander Jerad Eickhoff to give Perez all the support he would need against a lackluster Phillies lineup.

Wednesday night marked the seventh time in 34 games the Phillies were held to one run or fewer this season. They’ve scored two runs or fewer in 13 of those 34 games, and managed no more than three runs in 21 games (62 percent of their schedule so far).

You can’t rely on perfect pitching every night through the course of a 162-game season.

Eickhoff was hardly perfect. He allowed a run on three hits in the first inning, an inning that could have been easier for him had Maikel Franco not failed to get an out on a would-be double play ground ball. Defense cost him again in the second inning, when Eickhoff watched Mallex Smith turn a single into an easy run after catcher Cameron Rupp sailed a throw into center field on a stolen base attempt.

Eickhoff was pulled in the middle of the fifth inning. It was the second-shortest start of his young career.

• Freddie Freeman, maybe the only hitter in the Braves lineup anyone recognizes from last year, continues to wear out Phillies pitching. Wednesday night marked Freeman's seventh career three-hit game against the Phillies; his first career three-hit game came against the Phillies (5-8-2011).

Freeman has some work to do, however, to catch up to some other former Braves to get official Phillie-killer status. Freeman, who entered the game with a .815 OPS and .440 slugging percentage in his career against the Phils, is hitting .299 with 11 home runs and 57 RBI in 96 games against the Phillies following Wednesday's win. Current Yankees catcher and former Brave Brian McCann hit .276 with 21 home runs, 81 RBI, a .474 slugging percentage and .821 OPS in 131 games vs. the Phillies while soon-to-be Hall of Famer Chipper Jones hit .331 with 49 home runs, 152 RBI, a .596 slugging percentage and 1.036 OPS in 245 games against the Phillies.

• The good news: Ryan Howard has found his power stroke. Beginning with his walk-off home run against the Cleveland Indians on the Phillies last homestand, each of Howard's last four hits have been home runs. The bad news: that walk-off home run came nearly two weeks ago. Since that walk-off home run, Howard is 3-for-29 (.103) with three home runs and 15 strikeouts in his last 11 games. 

Entering play Wednesday, Phillies first basemen had a .606 OPS (second worst in baseball, just in front of the New York Yankees). But the Phillies OBP from their first baseman? It was an eye-popping .233, 33 points lower than the next closest team in baseball (Seattle).

• So you need something to cheer you up after reading this dreck, huh? Sorry. (Notable: Odubel Herrera was sidelined for three weeks this spring with a sore left finger):

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21