MLB: Journeyman's homer lifts Braves over Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH — The conversation between Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and reliever Jared Hughes was brief and to the point.
With the go-ahead run on second base and Atlanta rookie Evan Gattis pinch-hitting with one out in the eighth inning Thursday night, Searage told Hughes to go do his thing.
Instead, Gattis did his thing, taking a 92 mph sinker from Hughes and sending it into the left-field bleachers to lift the Braves to a 6-4 victory.
“I just fell behind him,” Hughes said. “The ball didn’t sink and he did a good job of getting his hands inside of it and hitting it hard.”
Hughes has struggled this season after being a pleasant surprise in 2012. He fell to 1-1 while his ERA ballooned to 5.63.
“Jared’s got to try and find his way back to what we’ve seen in the past,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “So far this season he’s been behind in too many counts, first pitch strikes aren’t where they need to be and I’m sure he’d like to have that pitch back.”
Gattis, a highly coveted prospect who left the game from 2006 to 2010, has five homers this season.
“I’d only ever pinch hit one time before and that was in rookie ball and I think I grounded out to short,” Gattis said. “It was a good matchup between me and what (Hughes) throws. I had a chance to see a couple of pitches, which helped, then I got a ball on the barrel of the bat.”
Atlanta brothers B.J. and Justin Upton homered in the same game for the second time this season as the Braves continued their torrid play. Before losing to Kansas City on Wednesday, the Braves had won 10 consecutive games.
Anthony Varvaro (1-0) won in relief of starter Julio Teheran. Craig Kimbrel worked a perfect ninth for his seventh save.
Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez each hit their first homer of the year, but the Pirates couldn’t climb above .500. Travis Snider added two doubles and Garrett Jones drove in two runs.
“You’re a bit deflated at the end, because I thought we played a pretty good game, back and forth,” Alvarez said. “But they’re a good team and when you battle like that for the whole game and it goes like that, it’s tough.”
Atlanta pitchers came in with a 1.77 ERA — easily the best in baseball — but Teheran continued to be the one member of the starting staff still searching for solid footing. The 22-year-old struggled with his command in five innings, giving up four runs on seven hits while striking out four and walking three.
Teheran had been lights-out against right-handed batters, but he surrendered Martin’s first homer with the Pirates leading off the second. Alvarez — in the midst of a 4-for-45 (.089) slump to begin the season — drilled a 91 mph slider to lead off the fourth inning.
While Teheran is a permanent part of Atlanta’s future, Pittsburgh left-hander Jeff Locke’s job security is more tenuous. He won a starting spot almost by default after injuries to Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano gave the Pirates a major hole at the back end of the rotation.
Locke’s first two starts were adequate and Hurdle said before the game there is a “window” for Locke to convince the Pirates to keep him around even after Liriano and Karstens return. The 25-year-old Locke struggled keeping the Uptons — and their teammates — in check, giving up four runs on six hits with four walks and three strikeouts in 4 2-3 innings.
“They hit the ball over the fence,” Locke said. “The biggest thing for me with this team is when you get ahead of them ... they tend to get themselves out sometimes. When you’re always 1-0 to people, it’s easier to hit.”
Both starters left the game with a 4-all tie before the Braves broke through against Hughes.
Andrelton Simmons led off the eighth with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before Gattis entered as a pinch-hitter. Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage came out to chat with Hughes, but three pitches later Gattis put the Braves in front to stay.
“We didn’t pitch well enough tonight at the end of the day,” Hurdle said. “We just didn’t pitch well enough.”
NOTES: Liriano will make a start for Double-A Altoona on Saturday. The left-hander is expected to throw four innings or 65 pitches. Liriano is recovering from a broken right arm and could be called up to Pittsburgh within the next two weeks. ... The series continues today when Tim Hudson (2-0, 2.50 ERA) faces Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez (1-0, 1.00).