Braves bounce back, split pair with Pirates

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PITTSBURGH --- Tim Hudson showed again that a well-pitched game is the easiest and best way to end an extended streak. Or, on this day, a number of streaks.

Hudson limited Pittsburgh to two hits and an unearned run over seven innings and the Atlanta Braves halted their seven-game road losing slide with an 8-1 victory that concluded Monday's doubleheader.

In the opener, Freddy Sanchez hit a three-run double and Zach Duke pitched six shutout innings as the Pirates won 5-0 for their sixth consecutive victory.

With Mark Kotsay and Brian McCann driving in three runs each, Atlanta avoided its first four-game sweep by Pittsburgh since Sept. 1-3, 1978. The Pirates' winning streak was their longest since they won 10 in a row from June 25-July 5, 2004.

"We were able to get a nice lead and I was able to relax," Hudson said after winning his third in a row, all with dominating outings. "I did a pretty good job of changing speeds off my fastball. When you get a lead, you can experiment a little bit."

Hudson (6-2) held the Pirates to a lone single over his final six innings, finishing with five strikeouts and two walks. Pittsburgh's only run came in the first on first baseman Greg Norton's error on Nate McLouth's grounder.

Hudson has permitted only two earned runs and 11 hits over 23 innings in beating the Reds, Padres and Pirates in succession, averaging nearly eight innings per start.

"He's a guy who's been doing it well for a long time. We had a chance to get more runs early and didn't do it," Pirates first baseman and former Brave Adam LaRoche said. "But other than this game, it was a great 6-1 homestand for us. We finally put it all together."

So did the Braves in the second game as they took a 3-1 lead on Kotsay's two-run double in the fourth against John Van Benschoten (0-2). McCann's three-run homer in the fifth made it 7-1. Kotsay added an RBI double in the seventh.

The Braves still own the majors' worst road record, 5-14, but finally ended a road losing streak that extended over their past two road trips. They also stopped Pittsburgh's seven-game home winning streak.

Even while splitting, the Braves left 24 on base, 15 in the opener as Duke (2-2) shook off five walks, three errors and five Braves hits to win. Duke, Damaso Marte and Sean Burnett combined to pitch the shutout.

"I think we're playing great," manager Bobby Cox said. "We hit so many balls hard with men on, it's becoming a joke around the clubhouse. Line drives right at them. It's crazy."

Van Benschoten, one of the majors' worst starters last season with an 0-7 record and a 10.15 ERA in nine starts, wasn't much better in his first 2008 start. The 2001 first-round draft pick was roughed up for seven runs, six earned, and nine hits over four-plus innings.

"We were able to time up his fastball and put some good swings on it," Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur said.

The right-handed Van Benschoten has a 1-12 record and 8.84 ERA in 21 career major league games and hasn't won since 2004, and likely won't get a chance to win again soon. He was optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis after the game.

"I'll be back," he said. "It's the business, the nature of the beast, and I've got to rise up from this."

Braves rookie pitcher Jair Jurrjens (4-3) got himself into trouble in the fifth inning of the first game by walking Jason Michaels and hitting rookie Brian Bixler with a pitch in the upper back, helping the Pirates load the bases.

Sanchez -- 10-for-28 (.357) with eight RBI as a leadoff batter since moving up one spot in the order last week -- cleared the bases with a two-out double to right-center. LaRoche added a two-run homer, his fourth, in the eighth against Manny Acosta.

SMOLTZ MOVES CLOSER TO RETURN


Atlanta ace John Smoltz is throwing again and hopes his injured rotator cuff heals enough to let him move into the Braves' bullpen later this month.


Smoltz threw 45 pitches from 60 feet at PNC Park on Monday, a day after throwing 25 from about 40 feet.


Until this weekend, Smoltz had not thrown since lasting only four innings against the Mets in a 6-3 loss on April 27. Smoltz said after that game that discomfort in his shoulder prevented him from throwing properly.


Smoltz was diagnosed with inflammation in his rotator cuff and a biceps tendon and told to rest while on the disabled list.


The right-hander, 210-147 lifetime with 154 saves, began the season by going 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts. He will return to the bullpen once he is ready to pitch again and plans to reduce his warmup pitches to about 20 to alleviate stress on his shoulder.


-- Associated Press


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