ATLANTA — Manager Fredi Gonzalez says Tommy La Stella is playing as if he is looking for another promotion. That's how comfortable the rookie second baseman has looked in his first three weeks in the major leagues.
La Stella had three hits, including a two-run double in Atlanta's four-run sixth, and the Braves beat Hector Santiago and the Los Angeles Angels 7-3 on Sunday night.
La Stella is hitting .411 with at least two hits in nine of his 16 games.
"I think La Stella thinks there's another league, the way he carries himself," Gonzalez said. "So it doesn't surprise me that he feels this comfortable right away."
La Stella has put a lock on the second base job with strong defense and his impressive start at the plate.
"I wouldn't say surprised," La Stella said when asked about his continued strong hitting. "Anytime you have a shot, especially in the big leagues, you want to start off on the right foot. I've been able to do that and hopefully I can keep going."
Evan Gattis and Justin Upton also had run-scoring singles in the sixth as the Braves rallied against Santiago (0-7). Jason Heyward homered in the seventh and made two strong defensive plays in right field to take hits away from Mike Trout.
Trout had three hits, including a homer. Erick Aybar also homered for the Angels before leaving the game with a sore left hip.
Manager Mike Scioscia said he hopes Aybar can play Monday. He said Aybar first hurt his hip in Saturday night's game.
Anthony Vavaro (2-1) had three strikeouts in two perfect innings for the win.
The Braves moved back into first place in the NL East by winning two of three from the Angels, who remain in second in the AL West.
David Carpenter gave up a single to Trout before hitting Albert Pujols with a pitch with one out in the ninth. Craig Kimbrel struck out Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick for his 20th save.
Santiago, trying for his first win of 2014, allowed only two hits through five innings before fading in the sixth. He was charged with four runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings.
"Hector, really, for five innings was really on top of things," Scioscia said. "Things unraveled a bit but I still think Hector pitched a really strong ballgame."
Atlanta's Mike Minor matched his career high by allowing 11 hits for the second straight game. He gave up three runs in five innings.
With one out in the sixth, B.J. Upton walked and moved to third on Freddie Freeman's single to center. Gattis extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a run-scoring single to right field. Freeman scored on Justin Upton's infield hit that David Freese couldn't handle at third base.
Chris Johnson's single off Kevin Jepsen loaded the bases to set up La Stella's double to right-center. Johnson was thrown out at the plate.
Aybar hit his fifth homer leading off the second. He reached on a fielder's choice grounder in the third before being removed from the game in the bottom of the inning. John McDonald took over at shortstop.
Trout raced in to make a tumbling catch of B.J. Upton's sinking liner to end the third inning.
Heyward took a hit away from Trout with a similar catch in the fourth. Heyward again denied Trout of a hit in the sixth. Sprinting toward the wall, Heyward jumped and reached up at the warning track to catch a long fly ball before running into the wall.
"If Jason doesn't make those plays, we might lose the game," Gonzalez said.
Heyward hit his eighth homer off Cam Bedrosian. B.J. Upton singled, stole second and scored from third on Bedrosian's wild pitch.
NOTES: The Angels placed RHP Fernando Salas on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation. Salas pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win in Saturday night's 11-6 victory over the Braves in 13 innings. RHP Dane De La Rosa was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake and pitched the eighth. ... Trout had seven hits, including two homers, and drove in five runs in the three-game series. ... The Braves signed OF Braxton Davidson, the team's first-round pick from Arden, North Carolina. ... The Braves open a three-game home series against Philadelphia on Monday night when RHP Julio Teheran faces Phillies LHP Cole Hamels. The Angels open a four-game series at Cleveland with RHP Jered Weaver matched against Indians RHP Trevor Bauer.