PITTSBURGH (AP) — Coming off a pair of draining, tight losses and facing an early deficit against perhaps the best team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have bailed.
It’s August. They’re essentially out of the playoff mix following a scorching start. Their focus over the final third of the season is essentially trying to see how far along the young core they’ve been cultivating has come.
That core provided a pretty emphatic answer on Thursday, rallying past Atlanta 7-5 to earn a four-game split against a team that has long been where the Pirates are trying to go.
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“We gave (the Braves) all they wanted this series,” Pittsburgh outfielder Bryan Reynolds said. “It was good to get this one and even it out.”
Ke’Bryan Hayes drove in three runs for the third straight game for Pittsburgh. Liover Peguero knocked in two and newly acquired reliever Thomas Hatch picked up his first win in nearly three years as Pittsburgh finished off an eight-game stretch against division leaders Atlanta and Milwaukee a respectable 4-4.
“That’s what winning teams do,” Hatch said. “I think for them to do it at this age shows what is on the horizon.”
Hatch, claimed off waivers from Toronto on Sunday, worked four scoreless innings in relief of Bailey Falter. Colin Holderman worked around an RBI single by Ronald Acuña Jr. in the ninth to earn the second save of his career.
“I like where we are right now as far as playing hard, doing the little things,” Hayes said. “That’s what it’s going to take to win ball games, compete with the good teams.”
Matt Olson hit his 40th home run of the season for Atlanta to move into a tie with Shohei Ohtani for the major-league lead but struck out looking as the tying run in the ninth to end it.
Orlando Arcia also homered for the Braves. Austin Riley added three hits, but Bryce Elder (8-4) couldn’t protect an early 4-0 lead.
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The Braves are comfortably atop the East as they chase a sixth straight division title but their starting pitching has hit a rough spot. Elder (8-4) gave up five runs and six hits with two walks and five strikeouts in five innings. Atlanta’s starters have posted an ERA of 10.59 over the club’s past six games.
The bullpen did enough to help the Braves pull out taut wins late on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Not this time around.
Pittsburgh took the lead in the sixth off Atlanta reliever Joe Jimenez and pulled away in the seventh. Reynolds led off the seventh with a single and Hayes followed with a triple to the gap in right-center field to become the first Pirate to drive in three runs in three consecutive games since outfielder Jason Bay did it from May 24-27, 2006.
Hayes, all of 26, suddenly finds himself one of the elder statesmen on a team that includes Peguero, catcher/outfielder Henry Davis, outfielder Jack Suwinski and injured shortstop Oneil Cruz.
While not everyone will stick, the vibe — particularly since the trade deadline — has shifted. The future in Pittsburgh is edging closer. They’re hoping what they’ve shown of late is a glimpse of what’s to come.
“It’s very easy against really good teams when you get in deficit games when you have a young club, and even more so on a day game when you’re getting beat it’s easy to not continue to grind through your at-bats,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “That’s why I’m so proud of them.”
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Pirates: INF Tucupita Marcano had surgery for the torn ACL in his right knee on Wednesday. He is expected to be out 9-12 months. ... Cruz (fractured ankle) began a running program recently. Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said the team remains hopeful that Cruz — who has been out since April 9 — will return before the end of the regular season.
RHP Paul Skenes, the top overall pick in the 2023 draft, tossed a perfect inning in his professional debut with Pittsburgh’s Florida Complex League team. Skenes needed just 10 pitches to get three outs against Minnesota’s FCL club, ending his appearance with a strikeout of Minnesota’s first-round pick Walker Jenkins.
Braves: Will spend the weekend in New York facing the Mets. Charlie Morton (10-10, 3.86 ERA) starts the opener for Atlanta.
Pirates: Continue a week-long homestand on Friday when Cincinnati visits to start a three-game series. Johan Oviedo (6-11, 4.18) starts for Pittsburgh against Andrew Abbott (6-3, 2.93).
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