Gattis' homer lifts Braves over Pirates

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Evan Gattis' entire pinch-hitting experience had consisted of one appearance and one ground out when he was playing rookie ball in the Atlanta Braves' farm system.

Gattis' second try at pinch-hitting came in a much bigger situation and turned out a lot better, too.

The rookie's pinch-hit, two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning Thursday broke a tie and lifted the Braves to a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

That continued the legend of Gattis, who is making the jump from Double-A to the major leagues and has hit five home runs in the first 15 games for the Braves, who improved their record to 13-2, tops in the major leagues.

Gattis drove a 2-0 pitch from Jared Hughes (1-1) down the left field line to snap a 4-4 tie.

"To come off bench and do what he did today says a lot," Atlanta center fielder B.J. Upton said. "A lot of guys don't know how to handle that situation, especially a young player. He just went up there and stayed within himself. It was a really good at-bat. It was impressive."

Gattis had started the previous nine games as the cleanup hitter while playing catcher, first base and left field. Manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to give Gattis a rest Thursday because he wanted veteran Gerald Laird to catch rookie Julio Teheran.

"Hey, I'm 1-for-1," Gattis said with a smile when jokingly asked for the secret to his pinch-hitting success. "I don't really have anything to compare it to. 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."

Gattis was called on to bat for Anthony Varvaro (1-0) after Andrelton Simmons drew a leadoff walk in the eighth with the score tied 4-4 and was bunted to second by Laird.

"It's a situation where I felt like we had to take a shot at it," Gonzalez said. "Of anybody on the bench, he was going to give you the best at-bat and not chase that sinker in the dirt. He got a pitch to hit, got in front of it a little bit, but he's such a big, strong guy that he was still able to hit it out."

The home run came right after Hughes was visited on the mound by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.

"We talked about the importance of getting ahead in the count and 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. He's good at hitting the ball there."

The Braves won a day after their 10-game winning streak ended. They became the fourth National League team since 1980 to win their first seven road games.

Eric O'Flaherty set the Pirates down in order in the eighth inning, and Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth to convert his seventh save in as many chances.

"It was a good game all the way around for us," Gonzalez said. "A lot of good things happened."

Atlanta hit four home runs, as B.J. Upton, Chris Johnson and Justin Upton also connected. Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez went deep for Pittsburgh.

The home run was the first of the season for Alvarez, who is hitting .104, and was a majestic drive that hit high off the batter's eye in center field and was estimated at 447 feet.

Johnson had three of the Braves' 10 hits, and B.J. Upton also hit a double. The Pirates' Travis Snider had two doubles.

Neither starting pitcher was effective. Teheran gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. The Pirates' Jeff Locke allowed four runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings, with four walks and three strikeouts.

Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte had his career-best 10-game hitting streak end, as he struck out in all five plate appearances.

The Pirates had won six of their previous eight games.

"I thought we played a pretty good game, back and forth. But they're a good team, and when you battle like that for the whole game and it goes like that, it's deflating," Alvarez said.

NOTES: Pittsburgh right-hander Charlie Morton made his first rehab start for high Class A Bradenton on Thursday night, and he allowed two runs and three hits in three innings against Palm Beach in a Florida State League game. Morton struck out two and did not walk a batter. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last June. ... Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano, who broke a bone in his upper right arm on Christmas Day, will start next Monday for Double-A Altoona at Richmond in an Eastern League game. He is scheduled to pitch four innings and be on a 65-pitch limit. Liriano pitched three perfect innings and struck out six in his first rehab start Monday for Bradenton. ... Braves left-hander Luis Avilan, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, was unavailable to pitch out of the bullpen for a second straight game. The Braves plan to wait until Sunday to decide whether Avilan will go on the disabled list. ... Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson (2-0, 2.50) will go for his 200th victory on Friday night when he faces Pittsburgh left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (1-0, 1.00).
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