The Atlanta Braves played to their strength tonight.
Their strength also happened to be a weakness of Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke, and they took advantage. They didn't stop when Jared Hughes took the mound, either.
The Braves hit three home runs off Locke in a 6-4 Pirates loss at PNC Park, the first of four games the Pirates play against the hottest team in baseball.
Evan Gattis hit a pinch-hit two-run home run against Jared Hughes in the eighth inning to break a 4-4 tie.
Locke exited after 4 2/3 innings when he walked two consecutive batters. He allowed four runs on six hits and walked four with three strikeouts.
The Braves win with the home run. They out-homered their opponents 25-7 entering tonight's game, and until a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals Wednesday, they enjoyed a 10-game winning streak. They had not lost when scoring at least one run.
They faced a perfect opponent in Locke, for whom home runs have been an issue in his major league career. The major league average in 2012 of home runs per nine innings was 1.0. Locke allowed 1.6 home runs per nine innings in 2011-12. He also had a 14.5 percent home run-to-fly ball rate in his career entering today's start. The major league average in that department hovers around 10 percent.
With the arrival of the Braves came four games against the best pitching staff in the majors so far this season. The Braves entered today's game with a 1.77 team ERA and a .206 opponent batting average, both major league bests. Their bullpen had a league-leading 1.36 ERA.
Atlanta's lineup has matched its pitching staff. The Braves' plus-41 run differential entering the series also led the majors.
Julio Teheran was the second consecutive 22-year-old former top prospect to face the Pirates, following St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller. Teheran made the seventh start of his career and allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.
Locke put B.J. Upton in an 0-2 count to start the game, then threw a belt-high fastball over the middle of the plate. Upton smacked it into the bleachers in left field for his second home run of the season.
Teheran walked Travis Snider in the bottom of the first and Andrew McCutchen followed with a broken-bat bloop double that scooted past a diving Jason Heyward in right field to put men on second and third. Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly scored a run.
Russell Martin hit his first home run of the season in the second. He deposited a 3-1 fastball low in the zone into the left-field bleachers.
Locke left another fastball up and over the plate, this one to Chris Johnson in the third, and Johnson hit a two-run homer to dead center. The homer gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.
Teheran left a fastball of his own up in the zone against Pedro Alvarez. He put his 0-1 pitch off the plate on the outside corner, but Alvarez smoked it 448 feet off the batter's eye in center field. His first home run of the season tied the game at 3-3.
Justin Upton, who led the majors in home runs with eight entering the game, erased the tie in the fifth. He hit a 3-1 changeup that was low but over the plate off the rotunda in left field, giving the Braves a 4-3 lead.
Travis Snider hit his second double of the game to lead off the fifth and scored on Jones' double, tying the game at 4-4.
Anthony Varvaro, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel shut out the Pirates during the final four innings.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published April 19, 2013 2:30 AM