Pirates spoil Snitker's debut as manager, top Braves 12-9

PITTSBURGH -- There are nights when Gregory Polanco will head to the dugout after an at-bat knowing it will be a while before he gets another turn at the plate.

Tuesday was not one of those nights.

The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder -- moonlighting in left field instead of his usual spot in right while Starling Marte is on paternity leave -- ripped three doubles in a 12-9 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

Pittsburgh jumped on Atlanta starter Aaron Blair for nine runs then held on late while pounding out a season-high 21 hits.

"You have to stay ready because you're hitting one inning and next thing you know, you might hit again," Polanco said.

John Jaso, Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli also had three hits for the Pirates, who have won three straight and spoiled interim manager Brian Snitker's debut with the Braves. Juan Nicasio (4-3) survived five innings to pick up the win.

Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 13th save and third in as many games, the closer was pressed into service after the front end of the bullpen scuffled despite being staked to a sizable lead.

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.

"We've been fighting all year," Smith said. "I've been saying that the whole time. We just got to get two things to go together. It seems like when our pitching is there our bats haven't been and then vice versa. Right now we're just waiting for it all to click."

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, though Snitker was hardly complaining after watching his new team press until the final out.

"It was just kind of neat to watch how they just kept throwing up those at-bats and grinding out at-bats," Snitker said. "Things happened, but we were a hit away again. I liked what I saw. I liked the energy in the dugout and everybody's kind of just into the game."

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.

"Pretty much everything was up in the zone and in the middle of the plate, and a good-hitting team, I guess that's what happens," Blair said.


Pittsburgh rookie Alen Hanson entered as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning and beat out an infield single for his first hit in the majors. Hanson moved to third on a botched pickoff attempt and later scored. He plans to send the baseball back to his mother in the Dominican Republic as a souvenir.

"This has been a long promise for my mom, to play in the big leagues," Hanson said. "(I want to) send that to her as a gift to say `Hey we made it."


Braves: Julio Teheran (0-4, 3.17) looks for his first victory of the season on Wednesday. Atlanta is averaging just 2.12 runs per game when Teheran starts this season.

Pirates: Francisco Liriano (3-2, 4.99 ERA) will try to bounce back from a bumpy outing against the Cubs last weekend when he gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. Liriano is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts versus the Braves.