Pedro Alvarez and Yamaico Navarro each hit two-run homers, and the Pirates enjoyed a long-awaited offensive breakthrough as they beat the Atlanta Braves 9-3 on Monday night.
“That was huge,” said Neil Walker, who had three hits. “It was good to get some runs early today, something we haven’t been able to do.”
The Pirates, last in the major leagues with 58 runs in 22 games, almost doubled their previous scoring high.
The wait of 22 games to score more than five runs is the longest streak since the 1972 Milwaukee Brewers went a major league-record 31 games into the season without surpassing five runs, according STATS LLC.
James McDonald (1-1) set a career high with 10 strikeouts as he improved to 3-0 in six career appearances against the Braves. He gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning but recovered to allow only one run in the next 6 2/3 innings.
The Braves settled for a split of the four-game set. They haven’t lost a series since being swept by the Mets in three games to open the season.
McDonald gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks in 7⅔ innings. The right-hander’s previous career high of nine strikeouts also came at Atlanta, on July 25, 2011.
“Maybe I’ve had a little luck here,” McDonald said.
The Braves said McDonald wasn’t lucky.
“I always knew he had good stuff but today he was able to control it,” said Michael Bourn, who had one hit.
“He was getting ahead with his fastball. He was throwing his curveball for strikes and for balls so it’s hard to tell the difference, which one is which, Bourn added. “He was on tonight, man. Give him credit.”
Alvarez gave Pittsburgh the lead in the fourth with his third homer in six days. He connected in both games of a doubleheader with Colorado on Wednesday. Alvarez hit only .191 with four homers in 74 games in 2011. His fifth homer came in his 18th game this season.
Navarro homered off Mike Minor (2-2) in the sixth
Mike Minor (2-2) gave up a career-high seven runs on eight hits and three walks in 6⅓innings. He struck out nine.
Navarro, who started in left field, was hitting only .077 (1 for 13) before he singled and scored in the fourth and hit his first NL homer in the sixth. He hit one homer for Boston last season.
Freeman pulled the first pitch he saw from McDonald about two rows over the right field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning. The liner drove in Martin Prado, who walked.
The Pirates answered with two runs in the third and two in the fourth. Josh Harrison had a run-scoring single and Andrew McCutchen had a sacrifice fly to center field. Navarro singled and scored on Alvarez’s home run in the fourth.
Eric Hinske had four hits for Atlanta, including a run-scoring single in the fourth.
Walker had a run-scoring single in the Pirates’ three-run seventh. Jose Tabata walked and eventually scored from third on Brian McCann’s passed ball on a pitch from Chad Durbin.
After the game, the Pirates announced right-hander Evan Meek had been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hurdle said he wasn’t ready to announce a corresponding move. He said he wants Meek to get steady work as he tries to sharpen the location on his fastball.
“The biggest point is him going down and finishing his fastball down in the strike zone,” Hurdle said. “This isn’t about velocity.”