ATLANTA — If this was an audition for a permanent spot in the Braves rotation, Williams Perez nailed it.
Perez gave up one run over five innings and had seven strikeouts in his first major league start and fellow rookie Todd Cunningham drove in the tiebreaking run with a groundout as Atlanta beat the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 on Wednesday night.
“He was terrific,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “You can’t ask for anything more.”
Perez was a starter for Triple-A Gwinnett to start the season, then joined the Braves bullpen on May 8 and made two appearances. With Eric Stults struggling, Gonzalez gave Perez the start against the Rays, and the right-hander responded.
“One of the best parts of my game was having the changeup and the curveball working,” Perez said through a translator. “That was a big thing for me and why I pitched so well today.”
Perez gave up singles to the second and third batters he faced, then settled down and retired nine in a row. In the fourth and fifth innings, he encountered some trouble, but managed to escape without giving up another run.
Freddie Freeman helped Perez end a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with some nifty glove work that turned into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play. Perez spiked the ball after the play and congratulated Freeman on his way off the field.
In the fifth, Perez struck out Steven Souza Jr. and Evan Longoria with two men on.
“He competes,” Gonzalez said. “On that last punchout, he was on fumes. Those two outs in the fifth will go a long way in his development. “
The Braves bullpen threw four scoreless innings to close out the win for Brandon Cunniff (2-0). Jason Grilli picked up his 12th save to ensure a split of the two-game series.
Freeman scored the go-ahead run after reaching on a ground-rule double in the sixth inning. He advanced to third on Nick Markakis’ single and scored on Cunningham’s grounder.
Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi (3-4) allowed two runs and four hits over six innings. It was the eighth time this season the Rays have scored two runs or less in one of his starts. He has a 2.43 ERA in nine starts.
“We know we need to get runs for him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But, we’ll take those outings — six innings, two runs — any day.”
Rays: Matt Moore threw a bullpen session on Wednesday after throwing 31 pitches in a simulated game on Monday as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Braves: Infielder Phil Gosselin had successful surgery on his injured thumb on Wednesday. He is on the 15-day DL and is expected to miss roughly eight weeks. He had seven hits in his last 14 at-bats before getting injured while diving for a groundball on May 17.
Rays: Alex Colome (2-1) will take the mound as the Rays host the opener of a four-game series against the Oakland A’s on Thursday. After winning his first two starts, the right-hander has struggled in his last two, giving up 11 runs and 17 hits in 9 1-3 innings. Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.63 ERA) will start for Oakland.
Braves: Julio Teheran (3-1) and the Braves will take on the Brewers in the first game of a four-game series in Atlanta.
Teheran leads the National League in run support per nine innings at 7.1. Teheran is 1-2 with a 1.69 ERA in his career vs. Milwaukee. He will be opposed by Matt Garza (2-5).
EARNING THE BASE ON BALLS
Odorizzi entered the game without issuing a walk in his previous 26 innings and 109 batters. Jace Peterson ended that streak at 118 batters, but it took a 10-pitch at-bat with three two-strike foul balls before he earned the free pass. Odorizzi finished with two walks.
BEING GOOD NEIGHBORS
The Braves added the Hawks-Cavaliers game to their scoreboard in left field so fans could track Game 1 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals going on across town at Phillips Arena.