PITTSBURGH – Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons homered to begin a six-run first inning, and the Atlanta Braves beat the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 Monday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
The early outburst was enough for Ervin Santana, who allowed three solo homers among nine hits in 5 1-3 innings. Santana (13-6) improved to 8-1 over his past 10 starts.
Pittsburgh has lost six in a row. Starling Marte went deep twice, and Neil Walker added a homer that became the first to reach the Allegheny River beyond right field at PNC Park this season.
Relievers Luis Avilan, David Hale and James Russell combined for 32/3 hitless innings for Atlanta, which broke a tie with Pittsburgh for third place in the National League wild-card standings.
Heyward and Simmons started the game with the Braves’ fifth set of back-to-back home runs this season, and it got worse from there for Vance Worley (5-3). Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird had run-scoring singles as Atlanta bolted to a 6-0 lead.
Worley managed to pitch six innings and was charged with five earned runs. He allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked two.
The Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez started at first base in his first career appearance at any spot other than third.
Because the Braves did not arrive in Pittsburgh until early Monday, manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to rest regulars B.J. Upton and Evan Gattis.
Heyward had three hits and a sacrifice fly.
Braves: During a rehabilitation outing for Triple-A Gwinnett, RHP Shae Simmons (right shoulder strain) did not record an out and was charged with four runs. He walked two and allowed two hits while throwing 21 pitches.
Pirates: Pirates star Andrew McCutchen expects to come off the disabled list when he is eligible to return today …McCutchen pronounced himself “good to go” after taking live batting practice Monday. The reigning NL MVP is batting .311 with 17 homers and 67 RBI in 109 games.McCutchen, who has been out with a rib injury, wore padding on his torso while facing a Pirates farmhand at PNC Park before Monday’s game against Atlanta.McCutchen says the BP session was “basically reassurance there that I can go out face some live pitching, get my swing ready for the games.” McCutchen experienced sharp pain while taking a swing in an Aug. 3 loss at Arizona. He was placed on the DL on Aug. 11 after not playing for a week.…SS Jordy Mercer (right forearm tightness) was not in the lineup for the fourth consecutive game.
Braves: Today’s starter RHP Aaron Harang (9-7, 3.51 ERA) has 15 career wins against the Pirates.
Pirates: Despite having a 2.36 ERA over 42 innings in seven starts since coming off the DL, LHP Francisco Liriano (3-9, 3.78 ERA) has lost three of five decisions. He’s lost his past two outings.