MIAMI (AP) — The Atlanta Braves’ latest victory was especially splashy: Evan Gattis’ three-run homer landed in the nightclub swimming pool beyond the left-field fence.
Two batters later, Juan Francisco homered off the upper-deck facade in center field. The Braves had too much muscle for the feeble Miami Marlins and completed their second consecutive three-game sweep by winning 8-0 Wednesday night.
The homers came in a six-run fifth inning, when Atlanta broke open a game that had been scoreless.
“That’s real men hitting the baseball,” Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer said. “That’s not little kids.”
Mike Minor pitched 5 2-3 innings for the Braves, whose 8-1 record leads the majors. They’re off to their best start since 1994, when they began the season 13-1.
Atlanta takes a six-game winning streak into a three-game series at Washington beginning Friday.
“It’s good momentum,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Winning is always good. It’s a good feeling. It’s early, but you want to be the guy in front all the time.”
Only three series into the season, Atlanta enjoys a seven-game lead over the Marlins, who have the worst record in the big leagues at 1-8. They’ve scored just 16 runs, and with five consecutive losses they’re off to their worst start since the 1998 team began the season 1-11.
“It’s snowballing a little bit,” first-year manager Mike Redmond said. “We’re pressing. They need to relax.”
The Marlins kept the game scoreless until the fifth, when Gattis hit his third homer, a line drive that scattered revelers in the nightclub.
“I thought it was going to decapitate somebody,” Gonzalez said.
“I never hit a home run into a pool before,” Gattis said. “Notch that one.”
The 26-year-old rookie also singled and is batting .391 with a slugging percentage of .826. He has been sharing playing time at catcher with Gerald Laird, who is batting .400, and Gonzalez said he would consider playing Gattis at first base Friday.
Was Gonzalez serious?
“It’s hard to take that bat out of the lineup,” the manager said. “Hey, I’ve got two days to think about it. Probably not, but we’ll see. I’ve done crazier stuff. Make sure you tune in.”
Gattis hit six home runs in spring training as a non-roster invitee to earn a spot on the team. His surprising success gives the Braves considerable depth at catcher, with Brian McCann expected to return from shoulder surgery by the end of April.
Andrelton Simmons drove in two runs for the Braves, while Schafer — a reserve making his first start this year — had four of their 13 hits.
The home team could be grateful there were few witnesses. For the second night in a row, the Marlins drew the smallest crowd since their park opened a year ago. Announced attendance was 13,810.
Minor (2-0) pitched around a leadoff double in the second and another in the third. Two relievers completed a seven-hitter.
The Braves came into the game with the best ERA in the majors at 2.13, and they’ve allowed only three runs in the past four games.
Miami went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and is batting .153 in those situations. Four starters ended the night hitting .200 or worse, including slugger Giancarlo Stanton at .167.
Alex Sanabia (1-1) gave up six runs, all in his fifth and final inning.
“It’s tough to pitch and be perfect, especially when you’re playing teams like the Braves and the Phillies,” Redmond said. “We’ve got to do our part offensively to take some of the pressure off the pitchers. We can’t ask those guys to go out and throw a shutout every single night.”
Schafer led off the Braves’ big inning with a bunt single, stole second and scored on a single by Simmons. Following a walk, Gattis hit a two-out homer.
After another walk, Francisco hit his first homer.
“One through eight, we’ve got guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Minor said. “A lot of times it leads to a big inning. We’re not really worried about it throughout the game if we have zeros on the board, because at any time, they can put one out of the ballpark.”
NOTES: Slumping Braves CF B.J. Upton (.103) was given the night off. … Braves RF Jason Heyward went 0 for 4, dropping his average to .071. … Marlins rookie Chris Valaika, who started at 1B, said he never played the position before, not even in Little League. He mishandled his first chance for an error.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.