Pirates' skid reaches six after 7-3 loss to Braves

The Pirates’ quest to end a losing streak Monday night started poorly. Jason Heyward batted twice in the first inning. Atlanta Braves starter Ervin Santana batted before taking the mound. Vance Worley needed a new baseball after each of the first two batters. By the time he sorted it out, and his offense had a chance to fight back, the hole was too large.

The Pirates lost, 7-3, against the Braves at PNC Park, keeping their losing streak alive at six games. At 64-61, they are now only three games better than .500. Unlike the previous two games, the bullpen did not factor into the loss. It did not have a chance.

“We just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Neil Walker, who homered Monday. “If you look at the end of May until now, we were one of the best teams in baseball.”

After the train wreck on fire that was Worley’s six-run first inning, he held the Braves to four hits in five scoreless innings the rest of the way. He allowed six runs, five earned, and nine hits in his six innings, with eight strikeouts.

“There was no angle to his pitches, and he’s a guy that uses angle,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “You saw angle from innings four to six.”

Though the final five innings looked more like what Worley (5-3) has shown since joining the rotation in June, his outing represented the second poor start in a row. He has allowed eight earned runs in 111⁄3 innings during those starts.

Starling Marte hit two home runs and doubled, continuing his stellar performance since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of the month. In 14 games in that span, he is 19 for 51 (.373) with six doubles and three homers.

“I think the confidence in the box, he’s getting good reads,” Hurdle said. “He’s not in a hurry to hit.”

The Pirates got good looks at Santana (13-6). They homered three times — all solo shots — and hit several other balls hard against him. They had a chance at more when they forced him from the game in the sixth. Marte and Travis Snider doubled. Snider’s hit barely cleared Emilio Bonifacio, who lost track of the ball in deep center so Marte had to wait and did not score.

Brent Morel struck out. When manager Clint Hurdle sent pinch-hitter Ike Davis to the plate, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez countered with left-hander Luis Avilan. Davis lined the ball hard, but right at third baseman Chris Johnson. He doubled Snider off second, and the threat ended.

The Pirates trailed after the first batter. Worley threw a 1-1 fastball down and inside to Jason Heyward, but not down or inside enough to prevent Heyward from driving it into the seats above the Clemente Wall in right.

Against the next batter, Andrelton Simmons, Worley fell behind, 2-0, before trying a fastball up and in. He left it over the plate enough for Simmons to drive it out to left.

“First inning, I was east-west,” Worley said. “Just missing and staying flat, so that was more bat path for them.”

Freddie Freeman walked. The next three hits were ground balls in the right spots. Justin Upton singled to left. Johnson hit a grounder up the middle that Walker dived for but couldn’t stop, scoring another run. The Pirates didn’t record an out until Tommy La Stella, the sixth batter in the order, struck out looking.

Gerald Laird grounded another RBI single to left and Bonifacio walked, bringing Santana to the plate. Santana grounded into what could have been an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play, but Walker’s throw to first was wide, allowing two more runs to score. Not until Heyward flied out on Worley’s 36th pitch did the Pirates escape.

Worley improved after that.

“One batter at a time, one pitch at a time,” he said. “All I can do is go out there and compete.”

Santana allowed homers to Marte in the second and fourth innings, and to Walker in the third.

Walker clobbered an 0-1 fastball 432 feet to right, over the seats, off the concourse and into the river on a bounce for his 17th this season.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 18, 2014 12:00 AM

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