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BRAVES 18, PIRATES 9: Atlanta jumps on McPherson

by The Associated Press on March 21, 2013 10:40 AM

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons each hit two home runs and the Atlanta Braves bopped the Pittsburgh Pirates 18-9 Wednesday.

Freeman went 4-for-4 and drove in four runs. He’s hit five of his seven spring homers in the past six games and is batting .373 (22-for-59) this spring.

Simmons also doubled in his first game back from the World Baseball Classic.

Braves starter Mike Minor allowed 10 hits, including a homer by Andrew McCutchen, and five runs in four innings. He walked three and struck out five.

Freeman was already fitting in nicely in the cleanup spot for Atlanta.

Now, the Braves also have Simmons, their leadoff batter, back, and he’s hitting well, too.

The Braves finished with 21 hits and have totaled 35 runs in their past two games.

“That’s a quality lineup over there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Braves don’t count on the slick-fielding Simmons for homers. But they need Freeman to continue his spring power surge into the season as he takes over the fourth spot in the batting order.

“He one of the most naturally talented young hitters in baseball,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’m not surprised (with what he’s doing).”

“He looks great,” Simmons said. “He is really swinging good.”

So is the native of Curacao. The Netherlands was the surprise team of the WBC, reaching the semifinals, and Simmons was one of the big reasons for the team’s success. Simmons batted .333 with three doubles, two homers, six RBIs and 10 runs scored in eight WBC games.

“We had a blast,” the 23-year-old said. “I didn’t expect it to be that fun. I didn’t expect the team to be that good. It was great.”

The high-pressure games also prepared Simmons for his first full major league season.

“I feel more like game ready,” he said.

Gonzalez certainly liked what he saw of the player who is replacing Michael Bourn as the Braves’ leadoff hitter.

“He had some great at-bats,” said the manager, adding. “It wasn’t like he’d been on vacation.”

The Braves scored six first-inning runs en route to a 17-10 victory over Philadelphia on Monday and picked up where they had left off with five first-inning runs against the Pirates after an off day Tuesday.

Kyle McPherson, competing for a spot in the Pittsburgh rotation, was the victim this time. He worked 4 2-3 innings and gave up 10 hits and nine runs (eight earned).

“He was trying to follow a game plan and that was problematic,” Hurdle said. “Command was up early. The execution part of the arsenal was really inconsistent. That’s what went sideways on him.”

Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor drove in the final first-inning run with a double, but he had his own struggles on the mound. The left-hander gave up 10 hits and five runs in four innings, walking three and striking out five.

Andrew McCutchen hit a homer off Minor in the third inning and was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. The Pirates had 16 hits, but 14 were singles.

NOTES: Wandy Rodriguez, who returned to Pirates camp Monday from the WBC, is slated to throw 85-90 pitches in a minor league game in Bradenton today. He was 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA for the champion Dominican Republic in the WBC. ... The Pirates play the Orioles at Sarasota tonight, with Jonathan Sanchez scheduled to start.

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