The Pirates' Jonathan Sanchez pitches against the Braves.
The Pirates' Neil Walker tags out the Braves' Ramiro Pena on a steal attempt in the first inning.
The Pirates' Clint Barmes drives in Neil Walker against the Braves in the sixth inning.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Who needs their starting pitchers to work deep into games?
The Pirates defeated the Atlanta Braves, 4-2, Sunday at PNC Park despite removing starter Jonathan Sanchez after three innings. With the win, the Pirates took three of four games from the Braves, a team that entered the day tied for the best record in the major leagues.
The Pirates ended their homestand with a 7-2 record. They start a 10-game road trip today to Philadelphia, St. Louis and Milwaukee.
Sanchez allowed two runs on four hits in three innings. He struck out five, but also walked three. After he threw 74 pitches, of which 41 were strikes, in three innings, manager Clint Hurdle had seen enough. He removed left-handed Sanchez after the third inning and brought in right-handed Jeanmar Gomez against the Braves' right-handed-heavy lineup.
"There comes a point in time you get a feel for things, I did not think him staying in the game was in our best interest," Hurdle said.
Sanchez attributed the high pitch count to too many 3-2 counts.
Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia.
MLB Network, KDKA-FM (93.7)
RHP A.J. Burnett (1-2, 2.63 ERA) vs. TBA.
Burnett vs. Chase Utley, who is 7 for 24 with a home run against Burnett in his career.
Burnett's career 5.06 ERA vs. the Phillies is his third-highest mark against all teams.
"I had to go down the middle [then]," he said. "It was either a foul ball or a hit. I threw too many pitches to every hitter. I just got to cut that down and be more aggressive."
In Sanchez's previous start that counted -- a rainout Tuesday washed away two innings of work -- he pitched 31/3 innings and allowed nine runs on eight hits and four walks. His outing Sunday did not approach those levels, but Hurdle saw all he needed to end it early.
"Seventy-four pitches in three innings," Hurdle said. "Sometimes you look for things to get better. Not [Sunday] for me."
Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington often talk about using their bullpen when they want to instead of when the game forces them to, and Sunday they found a way to win when the game mandated six innings from their relievers.
Gomez pitched 21/3 scoreless innings and Justin Wilson, who earned his first major league win, kept the Braves off the board for 11/3 innings. Jared Hughes struck out Chris Johnson, who led the major leagues in batting average entering the game, to strand a runner in scoring position and end the seventh inning.
"The job that the guys in the middle innings do, I live and die every pitch with them because I've done it," Jason Grilli said. "I've done what they're doing. I keep telling them, you guys got the hardest job. I can totally respect that. I give props to them every time I can because it's not easy."
Tony Watson pitched a perfect eighth in place of Mark Melancon, who was not available after pitching in the previous two games and six of the past nine. Grilli earned his seventh save.
"We know there's going to be days like that," Grilli said. "We're always staying on the edge of our seats and prepared to be called upon."
Four consecutive singles gave the Braves a 2-0 lead in the second. Gerald Laird and Andrelton Simmons each had RBI hits.
"They got a pretty good team," Sanchez said. "You can't throw down the middle, you just got to go around the zone and get them to chase pitches."
The Pirates tied the score at 2-2 in the second. Pedro Alvarez singled and scored on Russell Martin's double to the notch in left-center field. Clint Barmes ended an 0-for-14 streak with an RBI single that tied the score.
Neil Walker scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning 90 feet at a time. After he singled, Alvarez hit one to the wall in left field. Justin Upton made a leaping catch, but Walker tagged and advanced to second. He took third on Martin's groundout and scored when Barmes hit an infield single to second base. Simmons reached the ball, but didn't have a good throw on Barmes at first.
The Pirates scored an insurance run in the seventh when Travis Snider scored from third on a wild pitch. Snider extended his hitting streak to eight games and went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.