Pirates offense finally flexes its muscle

Alvarez, Navarro clout 2-run HRs, Walker has 3 hits as team puts end to dubious streak by scoring 9 runs

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ATLANTA -- When the dust settled, the scoreboard past the center-field wall at Turner Field displayed a "nine" in the Pirates' runs category.

It was a strange occurrence for the 2012 squad, one to which they were unaccustomed. Their 9-3 victory Monday night against the Atlanta Braves marked the first time they scored more than five runs this season.

Pedro Alvarez and Yamaico Navarro homered, Neil Walker had three hits and every starter reached base in the game.

"I believe in this offense," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're going to score runs."

  • Game: Pirates vs. Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis
  • TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7)
  • Probables: RHP Charlie Morton (1-1, 2.65) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (0-3, 7.32)
  • Key matchup: Wainwright vs. Andrew McCutchen, who is 6 for 15 with two doubles against Wainwright
  • Hidden stat: Wainwright has allowed five home runs in 192/3 innings this season.

After struggling to drive in runs a day ago, the Pirates went 5 for 8 with runners in scoring position. They had 11 hits, four of them for extra bases, and worked four walks.

The nine runs backed up another exceptional start from James McDonald, who allowed three runs on seven hits in 72/3 innings and struck out a career-high 10. In his previous start, he allowed one run on one hit in seven innings.

McDonald (1-1) broke his previous strikeout record of nine in a game, which he set July 25, 2011, in Atlanta.

"I just tried to throw strikes and keep my team in the game," McDonald said.

McDonald allowed a two-run homer in the first inning and several baserunners in the first four, but regained his effectiveness as the game progressed. He said catcher Rod Barajas called more off-speed pitches after the Braves jumped on his fastball.

"Early on, they were aggressive," Barajas said.

Barajas said he liked McDonald's slider while he warmed up in the bullpen, and the sliders he threw early were good, so he incorporated more as the game progressed.

"If you don't have one pitch working, you need to be able to rely on secondary pitches," Barajas said.

McDonald's slider and curveball stifled the Braves, inducing swings at balls in the dirt or freezing the batter as they sailed past.

The Pirates split the series with the Braves, 2-2.

Braves starter Mike Minor (2-2) allowed seven runs on eight hits in 61/3 innings, but struck out nine.

McDonald walked Martin Prado before Freddie Freeman smoked a line-drive home run to right field to put the Braves ahead, 2-0, in the first.

The Pirates tied the score in the third. Barajas walked and went to third on Jose Tabata's double. Josh Harrison's single scored Barajas and advanced Tabata to third, and Andrew McCutchen flied out to center to score Tabata and even the score at 2-2.

Pedro Alvarez saw Freeman's hard-hit two-run homer to right on the first pitch and raised him one, hitting the first offering from Minor into the right-field seats in the fourth. His fifth homer of the season scored Navarro, who had singled, and gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.

The Braves got one back in the bottom half. Dan Uggla doubled to the wall in right-center field and scored on Eric Hinske's single, Hinske's second hit of the game. He poked the ball off the end of the bat to shallow center, but McCutchen could not come up with it when he slid to make the catch, and the Braves cut the lead to 4-3.

Walker singled in the sixth before Navarro hit his first home run of the season, a low liner to left field. The Pirates led, 6-3, cracking the six-run mark for the first time this season.

Navarro entered the game with one hit in 13 at-bats.

"The kid's got a live bat," Hurdle said.

The Pirates added three runs in the seventh, a long inning that started with a walk to Tabata. He went to second on a bunt, third on McCutchen's single and scored on a passed ball. Walker's single scored McCutchen, and Navarro's ground ball scored Casey McGehee, who had walked, to push the lead to 9-3.

The Pirates finished a tough April schedule with a 10-12 record. They travel to St. Louis for another series against a tough set of starters, and one game cannot reverse the offensive struggles, but the potential was on display Monday night.

"We do believe in ourselves in here," Hurdle said.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 1, 2012 1:45 PM


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