ATLANTA – Aaron Harang realizes his struggles in 2013 were a sign to some that he no longer could be a winning pitcher.
Through eight starts in 2014, Harang is proving he’s still on top of his game.
Two days after his 36th birthday, Harang pitched six strong innings and, backed by home runs from Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward, led the Atlanta Braves to a 5-2 win and a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
Harang (4-3) gave up two runs on six hits and two walks. He had nine strikeouts. He is one win shy of matching his total in 26 starts combined with Seattle and the Mets last year, and he’s savoring his career revival.
“It means a lot, just to get back out here and prove that I can still do this,” Harang said. “I know there were probably a lot of people questioning that after last year. I’ve been pitching well and guys are playing well behind me and we’re battling through games. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve just got to keep it going.”
Harang, who was 5-12 with a career-worst 5.40 ERA last year, has a 2.98 ERA this season. The right-hander has allowed more than two earned runs in only one of his eight starts – nine runs in a 9-3 loss at Miami on April 30.
Ryan Kalish, Chris Coghlan and Welington Castillo each struck out twice against Harang. Overall, the Cubs finished with 14 strikeouts.
“They have a young, aggressive team over there and I think I was able to take a little advantage of that, knowing how aggressive they are,” Harang said.
Gattis gave Atlanta a 3-2 lead with his homer off Edwin Jackson in the fourth inning. Heyward added to the lead with his first home run since April 9, a two-run drive off James Russell in the seventh that landed in the Braves’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall.
“It felt like it was longer than that,” Heyward said of his power drought.
“I keep on showing up every day and trying to put up good at-bats and find good pitches to hit. If you try and do too much, that’s when you start to compound things.”
Jackson (2-3) allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in six innings.
“The two balls I got hurt on were balls up and over the middle,” he said. “Balls that should be hit. I’ve just got to do a better job of getting ahead in the count and working down.”
David Carpenter pitched the ninth for his second save. B.J. Upton made a sliding catch of Kalish’s short fly in center field to end it.
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel was rested after pitching two straight days.
The NL East-leading Braves have recovered from seven straight losses by winning four of five. The Cubs, last in the NL Central, have dropped seven of eight.
Ryan Doumit had a run-scoring single and Andrelton Simmons drove in a run with a double to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead in the second.
The Cubs tied it in the fourth on Nate Schierholtz’s two-run double.
The Braves quickly reclaimed the lead when Gattis hit his eighth homer over the 380-foot sign in left field.
Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch from Russell as a pinch-hitter to lead off the seventh. Uggla scored on Heyward’s third homer.