ATLANTA — The Braves’ youngest stars are some of the biggest reasons the team is putting pressure on Philadelphia in the NL East.
Rookie Craig Kimbrel, only 23, took the major league lead with his 27th save and two 21-year-old sluggers, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, hit home runs as Atlanta beat Colorado 6-3 Thursday to complete its first four-game sweep of the Rockies in 18 years.
Freeman hit four homers and drove in seven runs in the series. His third-inning homer was the highlight of a five-run inning that knocked Juan Nicasio (3-2) out of the game. Nicasio gave up six straight hits in the inning.
“Pitching has kept us in it all year long,” Freeman said. “Finally we gave the pitchers some breathing room in this series.”
Freeman, the rookie first baseman, is hitting .279 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs. One of his biggest rivals in the race for NL Rookie of the Year is Kimbrel, who passed Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon for the most saves by a rookie before the All-Star break since 1969. Papelbon had 26 saves before the break in 2006.
The Braves have won nine of 10 and 14 of 17 as they head into a series with NL East-leading Philadelphia.
“It’s going to be a good series, no question about that,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “It’s going to be fun.”
Colorado has lost five straight and left Atlanta with more injury woes.
The depleted Rockies, already playing without regulars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, had outfielder Charlie Blackmon break a metatarsal in his left foot while running the bases in the third inning.
Blackmon will return to Colorado where doctors will determine if surgery is necessary.
Tim Hudson (8-6) pitched 7 1-3 innings, giving up five hits and three runs, to win his third straight decision.
Heyward and Freeman each had three hits for Atlanta, which enjoyed an offensive resurgence while scoring four or more runs in every game of its 6-1 homestand. The Braves outscored the Rockies 15-4 in the final two games of the series.
“Coming up through the minors together, we said we were going to work as hard as possible,” said Heyward, who arrived in Atlanta one year before Freeman, his good friend. “We knew it was going to be a lot of fun when we got here. Don’t take it for granted. Keep doing what we’re doing now.”
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Gonzalez, who has a bruised right wrist, is close to returning to the lineup. Gonzalez was injured Sunday and missed the series.
Tulowitzki left Monday’s first game of the series with a strained right quadriceps.
Jason Giambi, starting at first base for Todd Helton, drove in two runs. The Rockies took a 1-0 lead in the first when Giambi’s RBI double scored Jonathan Herrera from first. Giambi’s fielder’s choice grounder in the third drove in Ty Wigginton.
Wigginton entered the game as a pinch-runner after Blackmon was hurt while advancing from first to third on Herrera’s single. Blackmon appeared to falter slightly near second base before his left foot made initial contact with the bag on his slide into third.
Nicasio intentionally walked Nate McLouth to load the bases in the second, but escaped the jam by striking out Hudson. Nicasio gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in 2 1-3 innings.
Alex Gonzalez and Heyward had run-scoring singles in the Braves’ five-run third inning. Heyward hit his ninth homer in the fifth.
Eric O’Flaherty took over for Hudson with one out in the eighth. O’Flaherty’s wild pitch with the bases loaded allowed Mark Ellis to score from third.
The Braves’ only other four-game sweep of the Rockies came on May 6-9, 1993, in Colorado.