PITTSBURGH (AP) – Gregory Polanco doubled three times and the Pittsburgh Pirates ruined Brian Snitker’s debut as interim manager of the Atlanta Braves with a 12-9 victory Tuesday night.
John Jaso, Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli had three hits each for the Pirates, who led by nine runs early then held on after an extended rally by the Braves. Juan Nicasio (4-3) survived five innings to pick up the win thanks in large part to Pittsburgh’s season-high 21 hits. Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 13th save.
Mallex Smith hit two homers for the Braves, playing hours after manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired after five-plus seasons with Atlanta languishing in last place in the NL East. Rookie Aaron Blair (0-3) failed to make it out of the second inning as the Braves fell to a major-league worst 9-29.
Atlanta general manager John Coppolella refused to blame Gonzalez for the team’s current state but stressed the need for a fresh voice. Enter Snitker, a lifer in the organization whose nomadic journey over the last four decades has included five different stints managing one of the club’s minor league affiliates.
Thrust into a 125-game tryout for the permanent gig, Snitker told the Braves – several of whom he coached on their way to the majors – that he would need time to get a feel for things.
The start of his tenure looked awfully familiar to Gonzalez’s final weeks.
Blair is among the core the Braves hope to build around as they retool heading into 2017. The 23-year-old, a former first-round draft pick by Arizona acquired by Atlanta last year, was solid if not spectacular in his first four major league starts but struggled in his fifth.
The Pirates jumped on Blair for seven runs in the first inning, though two fielding errors did little to help him. Nicasio chipped in a two-run single during the barrage, an outburst that might have continued unabated if Jaso wasn’t thrown out at home to end the inning.
Blair fared no better in the second, leaving after getting just one out and being charged with two more runs.
Staked to a massive lead, Nicasio couldn’t take advantage. He struggled against the worst offensive team in baseball, barely making it through five innings while allowing five runs, four earned, and eight hits. The middle of Pittsburgh’s scuffling bullpen continued to have issues. Veteran Ryan Vogelsong was touched for three runs and Arquimedes Caminero failed to record an out, forcing manager Clint Hurdle to go to his usual eighth/ninth inning combination of Tony Watson and Melancon just to finish it off.
Atlanta’s Julio Teheran looks for his first victory of the season today. The Pirates will counter with Francisco Liriano, who is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts against the Braves.