PITTSBURGH — If the Pirates were going to sweep the Atlanta Braves at home for the first time since 1994, someone was going to have to find a way to get some hits off fantastic Braves starter Julio Teheran.
Starling Marte was the guy, as he came through with two hits and a run against Teheran, but the Pirates went into the eighth inning trailing by a pair. A three-inning see-saw comeback bid saw the Pirates go into the bottom of the 10th inning down a run. Marte then sent a pitch from Atlanta reliever Jose Ramirez into the visitor’s bullpen for a walk-off victory.
Marte finished the day 4 for 5 and of the Pirates’ hitters, he seems to be the one that has found his way into form the quickest. Through five games, he has a .381/.524/.417 line and leads the team with five RBIs.
The power he showed in muscling Ramirez’s pitch over the 400-feet away wall in left-center is a welcome sign for the Pirates. Marte had just nine home runs in 2016 after 19 the year before. Marte said he’s not thinking about producing more power, but he’ll take it if it comes.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” he said. “I’m not looking for home runs, I’m just trying to put the ball in the play and steal bases, but sometimes I get a good swing and the ball goes.”
Facing Teheran, Marte showed a mature approach against a pitcher that he called one of the best in the National League.
“We tried to see how he was moving the ball,” Marte said. “Wherever the ball was going, out or in, I just stayed on the ball and hit it.”
“He’s just trying to take care of the at-bat that’s handed to him at the time and the situation that’s handed to him at the time,” Hurdle said. “Today, it started off with a ground ball and then he found the barrel, found the grass and finished with a big swing. He’s not trying to make more of it. He had a good day, he had a big day today and obviously the game-winning swing. Good for him.”
FREEMAN FIRES BACK
I wrote in the pregame notes that Cole had the number of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman over the course of his career. It turns out that’s only half correct. Freeman and Cole had faced each other numerous times in the minors and all the way back to Little League in Orange County, California.
In terms of their total numbers, Cole estimated that it was a much more even battle than his dominance at the major-league level reflected, and he saw Freeman’s 3-for-3 night with a home run against him as something of a reversion to the mean.
“We definitely made our fair share of mistakes, but he was some kind of locked in today,” Cole said. “He’s just a stand-up pro that I really enjoy watching. I think after the second hit, I gave him a little look like, ‘You’re locked in today.’ Then we pull the string on him, go down to 78 and he hits it out the other way. Go figure.”
FRAZIER FIGHTS BACK
Adam Frazier bobbled a ground ball in the top of the 10th inning that cost the Pirates a run and could have potentially cost the team the game. He then got the opportunity to lead off the bottom of the inning and got things started with a double before Marte’s mash. Frazier avoided the frequent trap of young players allowing a miscue in one area of the game to transfer to another, and his manager took notice.
“He’s a tough player,” Hurdle said. “He’s a very tough-minded kid. I think he’d want the next ball hit to him as well. It’s the way he was brought up. He’s a backyard ball player. Probably a lesson learners there, maybe a peak at the runner, however, you talk about separation of glove and bat, he’s always done that since he’s been in the organization. He did it in college. We like the player a lot. We like the makeup and mentality.”
Frazier finished the afternoon 3 for 5. He now has a .450 OBP this season.
WILLIAMS SPARKLES IN 2017 DEBUT
Trevor Williams was the last man called up on in the Pirates’ bullpen this season, but he might have had the best debut. Williams went two scoreless innings and struck out three while allowing just one hit. He used his slider effectively as a swing-and-miss option while also staying efficient at 24 pitches. Williams said he’s made some changes to the way he attacks hitters now that he’s coming out of the bullpen.
“I think it’s just a more aggressive mindset with my off speed pitches,” Williams said. “It’s a more aggressive mindset to get the out and not be cute with it. I’m a reliever now. I don’t have the luxury of trying to get guys out three times — setting them up for later ABs. It’s get the out now, as soon as possible.”
That’s resulted on Williams leaning more heavily on his two-seam fastball and slider in combination.
“He executed very, very well,” Hurdle said. “He got a nice run in the back half of Spring Training. … About halfway through, the slider came to play, he started using his fastball more effective to both side, opened up some breaking stuff and got some swings and misses.”
David Freese (left collarbone) returned to the field, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning and staying at first base for the 10th. … Josh Harrison was hit by a pitch in his right calf in the eighth inning and was visibly hobbled while running the bases. He was later removed from the game but said afterward that he thought he would be OK. … Felipe Rivero pitched for the fifth straight game. He gave up one run — the one that scored on Frazier’s bobble.