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Braves stay hot in record-cold Colorado

Apr 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) during the game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) during the game against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

DENVER -- Record-setting cold didn't stop the Atlanta Braves from hitting home runs or hinder their bullpen.

The Braves scored all their runs on three homers, beating the Colorado Rockies 4-3 on Tuesday in the first game of a split doubleheader.

Justin Upton, Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis homered for the Braves against Jeff Francis, who lasted four innings and struggled for the third successive start.

After Mike Minor worked six innings for the Braves, three relievers sealed a game that ended with Wilin Rosario being caught trying to steal second base.

It was 23 degrees when Francis threw his first pitch, a record low temperature for the start of a Rockies home game. It was the coldest temperature to start a game in the majors since STATS Inc. began collecting that data in 1991.

After pitching well in the Rockies' home opener, Francis had his third successive poor start. He had not allowed a home run in 12 innings in his previous three starts but gave up three homers to the Braves in four innings before departing.

The Rockies entered the season hoping Francis, 32, could be a dependable veteran at the back end of their rotation, which has not been the case so far. In his past three starts, Francis is 1-1 with a 12.60 ERA, having allowed 22 hits and 19 runs (14 earned) in 10 innings with eight walks and 11 strikeouts.

"I've been through it before," Francis said. "I have to make better pitches consistently, stay ahead of batters."

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said, "Jeff knows what he's got to do. I have confidence he'll come out and do the things he's done early on."

The doubleheader will force the Rockies to bring back a starter on three days' rest Saturday night at Arizona. That could be Francis, who threw 75 pitches against the Braves, including three he regretted.

The teams entered the game first and second in the majors in home runs, the Braves having hit 29, one more than the Rockies. The New York Yankees were leading the American League with 28 home runs.

The teams were snowed out Monday, but the Braves broke a three-game losing streak -- they dropped three of their final four games at Pittsburgh before coming here -- by clubbing three homers. Upton hit his 10th homer of the season with two out in the first, driving a 3-and-2 change-up over the fence in straightaway center field.

"Any time you lose three in a row, you want to just own the next team you play," Upton said. "I think we jumped out to an early lead, and we kept pressing. We didn't put runs across later in the game, but we still had a couple opportunities, so that's always good."

Chris Johnson led off the second, and with one out, Uggla walloped a 3-and-1 fastball for his fourth home of the season, It also disappeared over the fence in straightaway center.

Gattis, a rookie, put the Braves ahead 4-3 in the fourth. It was the sixth home run for Gattis, who has homered in all five ballparks in which he has played. He has hit two homers at Miami and one each at Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and now Colorado.

For Francis, it was the seventh time in his career to allow three or more home runs and the first time since he yielded three at Arizona on April 11, 2008.

Atlanta's Mike Minor, who had allowed one run in 19 innings in his first three starts, gave up three runs and five hits in six innings.

The Rockies scored twice in the second, which began with a walk to Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer's double to left center. Rosario's groundout scored Tulowitzki, and Jordan Pacheco followed with a run-scoring single.

Dexter Fowler led off the third with a triple -- extending his franchise record to 51 triples -- and scored on Josh Rutledge's slow roller to second base.

"Six innings, three runs in this ballpark in this weather? He did a nice job," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They got a couple runs off borderline pitches that didn't go his way. They ended up getting a couple runs. I thought he did a terrific job pounding the strike zone, fighting the elements."

Minor said, "I didn't have a whole lot of good stuff today. I threw a lot of off-speed and then I mixed in a fastball just to throw them off. A lot of change-ups, curveballs, whatever I could do to get some outs."

Minor said it "felt weird" pitching with long sleeves and that gripping a cold, dry ball presented a challenge on a memorably cold afternoon.

"The closest thing I would say was fall ball in college," said Minor, who went to Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. "Tennessee was pretty cold, but (there was) never six inches of snow and having to clear it off and it being 20 degrees out. It was never like that."

After Fowler's leadoff single in the fifth, the Rockies were held hitless by Minor, Luis Avilan, Eric O'Flaherty and closer Craig Kimbrel, who posted his eighth save in as many save opportunities. Atlanta's bullpen is 5-0 with a 1.15 ERA (54 innings, seven earned runs) and has allowed 35 hits and no homers with 15 walks and 46 strikeouts.

"The plan against the Braves is you want to get out front and make them chase you," Weiss said, "because they hand that ball off to the bullpen, they're tough."

Kimbrel came back from a 3-and-1 count to strike out Cuddyer on a high 95 mph fastball. He threw Rosario a first-pitch curveball, which Rosario lined to center for a single. Kimbrel went to 3-and-0 on Jordan Pacheco but threw three straight strikes, the last called on a 95 mph fastball. The game ended when Rosario broke for second on an 0-and-1 pitch that Chris Nelson missed and was thrown out by Gattis.

"That was a straight steal," Weiss said. "I had him running there. Kimbrel wasn't paying a whole lot of attention (to Rosario). I tried to sneak one. Gattis made a good throw."

Rosario, who had been successful on his first three steal attempts of the season, said, "I lost a little in my balance. I was a little late or maybe short in my lead."Reed Johnson went 4 for 4 with three doubles for the Braves. He tied his career best with four hits and set a career high with the three doubles.

Rob Scahill, who was recalled Sunday from triple-A Colorado Springs, made his 2013 Rockies debut and worked three scoreless innings in relief of Francis. He gave up one of Johnson's doubles and struck out two while throwing 20 of 28 pitches for strikes.

"Just trying to attack the strike zone, really" said Scahill, who had a 1.04 ERA in six September appearances with the Rockies last season, "The organization's always told me, I need to throw strikes, I need to throw strikes. I just try to go out there and try to pound the strike zone and get ahead of guys, and I was able to do that."

NOTES: Braves right fielder Jason Heyward underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday evening and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Gonzalez said he visited Heyward in Rose Medical Center in Denver before coming to the ballpark and Heyward was fine but "just drained" after surgery. Infielder Tyler Pastornicky was recalled from triple-A Gwinnett and was with the Braves for the first game. In Heyward's absence, Gonzalez said Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer would play right field. Upton played right field with Arizona before joining the Braves this year, but Gonzalez said he would leave Upton in left field, where he has played well and adapted to the position rather than move him to right field in Heyward's absence. ... Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin, who is on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Saturday, underwent an MRI on Monday that showed a mild back strain but no damage to his left oblique. "Everything was fine," Chacin said. "It's a strain in my back and a little bit in my lat, but it wasn't bad." Chacin, who is eligible to be activated May 5, will travel with the Rockies to Phoenix after Thursday's game. After the Rockies' weekend series there, he will report to their complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., where if all goes well -- and the Rockies don't have to adjust their rotation due to a postponement -- he will throw bullpen sessions in preparation for one rehab start April 30 before facing the Rays on May 5 at Coors Field. ... The previous low temperature for the start of a Rockies home game was 28 degrees on April 12, 1997, against Montreal and last Thursday against the New York Mets. Both of those were also day games.

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