The Atlanta Braves (13-2) improved to an MLB best 13-2, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates (7-8) 6-4 on Thursday night at PNC Park. The loss was just the Pirates third in their last nine games.
In a back and fourth game as the Braves and Pirates traded leads, Evan Gattis broke a 4-4 tie, hitting a pinch hit two-run homer off Pirates reliever Jared Hughes in the top of the 8th, delivering the go-ahead and eventual game winning runs.
Hughes fell behind 2-0 to Gattis and hung a 2-0 pitch over the plate.
“I fell behind and I had to come in with a ball over the plate,” Hughes said.
For the fourth straight game, the Pirates scored 4 runs or more. Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez each hit their first home runs of the season, while Garret Jones had two RBIs and Travis Snider added two doubles in the loss.
Starter Jeff Locke (1-1, 5.17 ERA) had another mediocre start, allowing 6 hits and 4 earned  runs in 4 2/3 innings. Locke struck out 3 and walked 4, throwing 95 pitches, just 51 for strikes. The Braves belted 3 home runs off Locke and Locke has walked 9 batters in 15 2/3 innings in three starts.
A storyline for the Pirates is that the current rotation won’t be the rotation we see in two to four weeks and manager Clint Hurdle made that clear prior to last night’s game.
“Guys know the clock is ticking,” Hurdle said of his starting rotation. “We’ve got guys coming.”
Those two guys coming are Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano. Liriano recovering from a broken arm (non-throwing arm), was excellent last week in a Class-A start, hitting 94-95, and is three starts away from joining the Pirates rotation and will move up to make a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Saturday.
Charlie Morton is also progressing very well from Tommy John Surgery and is on track to join the rotation by Mid-May. Hurdle said on Thursday that Morton is four starts away, one behind Liriano. Morton made a rehab start for Class-A Bradenton Thursday night and according to reports was hitting 95-96.
The only pitchers safe in the rotation are A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. With Liriano and Morton getting close to joining the rotation, the clock is ticking on Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke and even James McDonald who manager Clint Hurdle is said to becoming increasingly frustrated with in his struggles.