Volstad's gem puts Marlins alone in first

Volstad puts Marlins alone in first

ATLANTA -- Quality starting pitching is becoming contagious.

Picking up where Josh Johnson left off, it was Chris Volstad's turn to dazzle. And the 22-year-old Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native certainly did on a cool 56-degree night.

The 22-year-old scattered three hits and one run over seven innings, and Dan Uggla drove in three runs, as the Marlins defeated the Braves, 5-1, on Tuesday night at Turner Field to gain sole possession of first place in the National League East.

The Marlins, now a game up on the Braves in the division, opened their nine-game, three-city road trip with a win. Starting off the road swing on a high was certainly on Volstad's mind.

"It's a long road trip against another division team," Volstad said. "I wanted to go out and start it off well. Luckily, I did. You need momentum to win a series, especially a three-game series. It gives you a lot of momentum."

Volstad's outing was a nice follow-up to Johnson's compete-game victory over the Mets on Sunday.

"Like I've been saying, we all feed off each other," Volstad said. "Watching [Johnson] go out there, I just wanted to go out and do the same thing."

What Volstad noticed from Johnson's start was to "attack the zone."

At 6-foot-8, Volstad is a towering presence on the mound, and he is especially tough when his sinker is working. He logged nine ground-ball outs, compared to eight fly-ball outs.

"Volstad, he's very mature for his age, and he knows how to pitch," Uggla said. "And he's got great stuff to go along with that. He's very competitive. He's not scared of anybody. He's going to challenge you and make you put the ball in play. It's very rare to see that out of a 22-year-old."

In that 2-1 win against New York, Johan Santana struck out 13 Marlins in seven innings. On Tuesday, Atlanta's Javier Vazquez fanned 12, two shy of his career high. But after running up 106 pitches through six innings, and with his team trailing by two runs, Vazquez was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.

Overall, the Marlins ended up striking out 14 times, yet they were able to win thanks to timely hitting and a few breaks.

In the third inning, Florida capitalized on a two-out single and a wild pitch to score three runs. Emilio Bonifacio singled and went to third on John Baker's hit-and-run single through shortstop. With two outs, Ross Gload drew a walk, loading the bases.

Uggla delivered a two-run single just out of the reach of a diving Yunel Escobar at shortstop, putting runners at the corners. With Jeremy Hermida at the plate, Vazquez threw a wild pitch, bringing home Gload.

Uggla's three RBIs give him 38 in his career against the Braves, the most of any current Marlin.

"It's a matter of being a little more selective," Uggla said of coming through twice with the bases loaded. "With less than two outs, I was just trying to put that ball in play somewhere. Luckily I did, and it found a hole."

Volstad retired the first nine Braves in order, before Kelly Johnson opened the fourth inning with a home run to right field.

"That was my only sinker that didn't sink," Volstad said.

The count was full to Johnson, and the right-hander was more determined to not walk the leadoff man.

In the sixth inning, Volstad ran into trouble when Martin Prado delivered a pinch-hit double. With one out, Escobar walked. Volstad worked out of it by retiring Chipper Jones on a slow grounder to the mound before Brian McCann bounced to first base. While Gload bobbled the ball, he flipped to Volstad for the third out.

Bonifacio used his great speed to trigger a two-run eighth inning. Having his at-bat extended because left fielder Garret Anderson dropped a foul ball, Bonifacio reached on an infield single, and he scored on Baker's RBI double. Uggla added an RBI single.

Uggla has come through in both of Volstad's starts.

On April 8 against the Nationals, Uggla's two-run double in the fifth inning made Volstad the pitcher of record in a game Florida won, 6-4.

"He's come up big for me twice," Volstad said.

You also can say Volstad stepped up in both of his early starts.

"So far, the [starting pitching] has been pretty good," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Guys are giving you six, seven [innings], a complete game. It's never easy. It's still a big league game, and it's tough. But it sure makes life on the bullpen easier."

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