PITTSBURGH -- The Braves rediscovered the long ball Monday night, but some early small ball and Matt Joyce's late homer led the Pirates to an 8-5 win at PNC Park.
Given a rare start with Starling Marte on the paternity list, Joyce took advantage of the opportunity. The outfielder punctuated Pittsburgh's three-run first inning with an RBI single to right field off Braves starter Williams Perez. In the seventh inning, he tagged his fifth homer, a two-run shot, into the right-field seats to cap a three-hit day.
Left-hander Jonathon Niese made his second straight quality start, limiting Atlanta to two runs on five hits over six innings. He served up his 11th home run, a two-run blast by Jeff Francoeur, but otherwise kept the Braves off the board. Niese pitched particularly well with runners on base, an area he addressed by throwing his last two between-starts bullpen sessions out of the stretch.
"It helps me stay back and stay on line and keep myself under control," Niese said. "Normally when you throw bullpens, you throw the majority of them out of the windup. ... I thought that kind of helped me out today."
The Braves kept it close with their first multi-homer performance since Opening Day, as Francoeur hit his first of the year in the sixth and Kelly Johnson launched a two-run shot to center off Cory Luebke in the eighth. Atlanta began the night with nine homers, 20 fewer than any other team and fewer than 13 players.
"It's good to get a home run and get a zero off there, but at the same time, we were down so much," said Johnson, who also picked up his first homer. "We did fight back. We definitely could have kept it a closer game, and then to have been able to see what would have happened would have been nice."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Small ball: The Pirates hit only one ball out of the infield in the first inning, but they still managed to quickly take a three-run lead. John Jaso walked, then Gregory Polanco and David Freese reached on consecutive infield singles to Braves shortstop Erick Aybar. Jaso scored on a wild pitch, Polanco came home on Francisco Cervelli's RBI groundout and Freese scored on Joyce's line-drive single to right field.
"We had some well-placed balls today. Not all of them were hit extremely hard, but we found grass, we moved the ball around," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We weren't trying to jump things, weren't trying to pound the ball out of the ballpark. We were able to work a good young pitcher into some situations."
Rare power surge: After stranding a runner at third base during each of the first four innings, the Braves finally dented the scoreboard with Francoeur's two-run shot in the sixth. It was Atlanta's 10th home run (second with a runner on base) of the season and just the fourth hit by somebody other than Freddie Freeman. Johnson added a two-run shot in the eighth to give the Braves their first two-homer game since Freeman and Adonis Garcia homered within the first four innings of the Opening Day matchup against the Nationals' Max Scherzer. More >
Long-awaited debut: After being called up Monday afternoon, Alen Hanson made his Major League debut as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. The Pirates' No. 10 prospect struck out against Perez, going down on four pitches. Hanson's stay might be short, likely ending when Marte returns, but he still beamed before the game about the chance to realize his lifelong dream. So did his teammate and close friend Polanco. More >
"I'm very happy for him to be here. We have so much fun together," Polanco said. "I'm very proud of him. I told him keep working and you'll be able to stay here for a long time."
Perez's misfortunes: Aybar's defensive struggles extended as his limited range prevented him from turning two infield singles into outs during that first inning. But at the same time, Perez's command was nowhere near as sharp as it had been when he limited the Phillies to two hits over eight innings last week. The right-hander was charged with six earned runs and nine hits over six innings. He posted an 11.21 ERA in the first four starts he made after completing his only other eight-inning effort last year.
"I thought [Perez] pitched well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's a contact guy. They made contact against him. I think at one point during the first inning, they had loaded the bases without a ball reaching the outfield. They were all ground balls just out of the reach of our infielders. But [Perez] gave us everything we had."
"We have gotten spoiled watching [former Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons] set all kinds of records defensively for a long time. [Aybar] is not Simmons, but he's better than what we're seeing. But we're so used to and spoiled having seen Simmons play. Sometimes, you scratch your head and think Simmons can make that." -- Gonzalez
"Yeah, but he gave me the green light first. It was too late." -- Polanco, on burning past third-base coach Rick Sofield's stop sign and scoring in the third inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
It took the Braves 37 games to hit their 10th home run this season. They did not need more than 13 games to reach the double-digit mark during any of the previous six seasons: 2015 (10), '14 (10), '13 (five), '12 (11), '11 (13), '10 (13).
The Pirates are 17-0 when leading after eight innings this year. Since the beginning of last season, the Bucs are 101-1 when leading after eight.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves:Aaron Blair will take the mound when the four-game series resumes on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Blair completed at least five innings in each of his first three starts, but he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the Phillies last week.
Pirates: Right-hander Juan Nicasio will start Tuesday. Nicasio has been at his best at home this year, going 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts at PNC Park. After a day off Monday, Jung Ho Kang likely will make his first start in Pittsburgh since Sept. 17, the day he underwent season-ending surgery on his left leg.