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Uggla powers Nolasco, Marlins over Braves

Uggla powers Nolasco, Marlins over Braves

ATLANTA -- Nothing historic happened for Ricky Nolasco on Sunday afternoon. Still, something significant occurred in the sense the Marlins gained some valuable ground.

Nolasco struck out 11 in seven innings, while Dan Uggla homered and drove in three runs. It was all the support the Marlins needed to pull out a 3-2 win over the Braves at Turner Field.

When Nolasco last pitched in Atlanta, he fanned a franchise-record 16 on Sept. 30, 2009, including a string of nine in a row, which was one shy of Tom Seaver's Major League record. Even though he wasn't that dominant on Sunday, he was effective enough to help the Marlins salvage the series finale.

With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Marlins are in a crucial stretch to accelerate their season. Sunday was their 81st game, exactly the midpoint. They are now 38-43.

Florida snapped a three-game losing streak and pulled to within 9 1/2 games of Atlanta in the NL East.

"I think it's a must win. We couldn't come in and get swept," said Nolasco, now 8-6 after taking his third straight decision. "Obviously that's a good team over there. We know that. To take one, hopefully it's a start and it can get some momentum going. I think every game is big for us from here on out."

Scoring runs was difficult off Tim Hudson (8-4), who gave up three while striking out seven in eight innings. The loss for the Braves right-hander was just his third in 11 career decisions against the Marlins.

Beating the Braves at Turner Field also has been challenging. Atlanta is now 30-10 at home.

On the day he was overlooked in the All-Star process, Uggla came up big.

The 30-year-old second baseman belted a solo homer in the fourth inning, putting the Marlins ahead ,3-1. The blast was his 16th of the season, and 137th of his career, putting him one behind Miguel Cabrera (138) for second most in franchise history. Florida's all-time leader is Mike Lowell (143).

An All-Star in 2006 and '08, Uggla took it in stride that he won't be headed to the Midsummer Classic.

"Everybody loves to go to the All-Star Game. It's a lot of fun. I came up a little short. I won't lose any sleep over it," Uggla said. "I'll take my four days off and go see my kids. The guys that are in the game, they deserve everything they're getting. I'll enjoy watching it."

For the third straight day, the Marlins grabbed an early lead. The difference on a festive Fourth of July setting was they held on and closed things out, with Leo Nunez locking down the ninth inning in order with two strikeouts for his 17th save in 22 chances.

Nunez had dropped back-to-back saves chances, including on Friday night at Atlanta.

A change the team is asking Nunez to do is attack with his 95-mph fastball rather than rely more heavily on his changeup. The adrenaline was flowing, as Nunez reached 98 mph in the inning. He was able to get ahead in the counts, and pick up a big save.

"He's very competitive," manager Edwin Rodriguez said of Nunez. "He was looking for this situation. He had it today. He showed his ability to bounce back."

A crucial inning was the eighth, when Rodriguez used three relievers to each record one out, stranding Gregor Blanco at second and Chipper Jones at first.

One managerial difference between Rodriguez and Fredi Gonzalez, who was dismissed on June 23, is how he is piecing together a bullpen that has struggled most of the year.

Nolasco gave way in the eighth in a one-run game. Clay Hensley, who has been the primary eighth-inning reliever, entered. Blanco led off by reaching on Hanley Ramirez's error. After Brooks Conrad's sacrifice bunt advanced Blanco into scoring position, Rodriguez played the percentages.

He brought in lefty Taylor Tankersley to face lefty-hitting Brian McCann, who homered off Nolasco in the sixth. Tankersley retired McCann on a fly ball to center.

Jones pinch-hit, and with first base open, he was intentionally walked. Tim Wood was brought in to face the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera. Wood induced a groundout to short, with Ramirez making a nice play up the middle.

"He used some situational pitching. He'd bring in the righty to get the righty. He used the lefty to get the lefty," Wood said. "He threw three pitchers in the eighth inning. If that's what we need to get three outs, that's what we need to do."

Hensley had been used to working the entire inning, but understood the decision by the manager, who is looking to establish confidence in his entire 'pen.

"For some guys to come in with runners on and get out of it, yeah, it's a confidence boost," Hensley said.

Added Tankersley: "Being a pitcher, I love winning a 3-2 ballgame. Having said that, it would be nice to win a boat race, 10-2. It doesn't hurt my feelings at all to have a tight game, a low-scoring game."

On a day where runs were scarce, the Marlins pushed two across in the first inning.

Chris Coghlan singled to open the game, and with one out, Ramirez singled. Both scored on Uggla's hard-hit ball that ricocheted off Hudson.

The win was also telling because the Marlins have lagged all season in one-run games. They are now 9-16 in them.

"The blowouts kind of take care of themselves," Uggla said. "These close games, you really have got to do the little things. Everybody stepped up today. Great start out of Ricky. The bullpen came in and did a great job."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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