Pirates ride fast start to split in Atlanta

Pirates ride fast start to split in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- After languishing through Gerrit Cole's worst start of the season and the long rain delay that added to the frustration of Tuesday night's loss, the Pirates righted themselves with a ninth-inning comeback on Wednesday and then capped their four-day stay in Atlanta with Thursday's 9-4 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.

Ivan Nova's bid for his third complete game of the season unraveled as he allowed two of the four runs charged to him in the ninth. After twisting his left knee during his last outing and skipping his between-starts bullpen session, the Pirates weren't sure Nova would make this start. But Nova completed at least eight innings for the third time in 10 starts this season, needing only 67 pitches to get through seven before laboring for his final four outs.

Balanced Bucs lineup beginning to hit stride

Despite his performance under the circumstances, Nova -- still wearing a wrap around his knee after the game -- was frustrated with himself afterward for not finishing the game.

Nova tosses 8 1/3 innings

"I get to the ninth inning with that lead, I've got to be able to finish them off," Nova said. "I didn't make the pitches that I was supposed to make that inning and the game almost got away from me. That can't happen. … My mentality is, 'Always go all the way.' A lot of times that doesn't happen, but at least you have the mentality and you go for it."

The Pirates right-hander's 8 1/3-inning effort was aided by a five-run second inning that included Adam Frazier's three-run homer off Bartolo Colon. Frazier's third homer of the season and second in as many days traveled a projected 404 feet and had a 100.5-mph exit velocity, per Statcast™.

"We got some pressure on him. Frazier got a ball he didn't miss," Pirates left fielder Josh Harrison said. "We were able to keep that pressure and build off of what we did last night, which was nice for us."

Frazier's three-run smash

As the Braves concluded this 5-4 homestand with a second straight loss, they were never able to overcome the early struggles endured by Colon, who surrendered seven earned runs and 10 hits over five innings. The right-hander, who turned 44 on Wednesday, has posted a 6.96 ERA through 10 starts and an 8.25 ERA over his past eight starts.

Big series has Ruiz primed for extended stay

"It is just one of those days," Colon said. "Every now and then it's a hitters turn to have their day, and today was their day to have it. That's just how it goes."

Colon had shown some improvement during a couple recent starts. But he didn't get through the fifth inning of this past Saturday's start against the Nationals and he was nearly knocked out during the fifth inning of his May 15 win in Toronto.

Asked whether Colon will remain in the rotation, Braves manager Brian Snitker said, "As of now, yes."

Braves turn smooth double play

Taking advantage: For the second straight day, Frazier followed a second-inning error with a three-run homer. With two on and one out, Jordy Mercer hit a slow roller to third baseman Rio Ruiz, whose wide throw bounced out of Matt Adams' glove as he attempted to tag Mercer. Francisco Cervelli scored on the play and Gift Ngoepe followed with another slow roller to Ruiz that resulted in an infield hit.

"Ultimately, that one play started the merry-go-round, to say the least," Ruiz said. "It was just a bad throw on my part and Matt did all he could to put the tag on the guy. The ball just got away. Those plays have to be made, and that's all on me. I take too much pride in my defense to let those balls go."

Mercer's infield single

Making them count: Cervelli matched a career high with four hits to cap a productive series in which he went 7-for-13 and raised his batting average from .227 to .258. After delivering a single that fueled the second inning, the catcher delivered a one-out double during a two-run fifth that allowed the Pirates to cruise to victory. 

"Baseball is something crazy," Cervelli said. "You have to be patient and keep doing what you've been doing."

Cervelli's four-hit effort

"Last night, trying to find that last out, it would have been huge. That would have capped off a huge homestand. Now it's a 5-4 homestand. We're looking to take small steps forward, and I feel like we are."
-- Snitker, in reference to blowing a two-run lead with two outs in Wednesday's ninth inning

"We earned a split here. This thing could have gone the other way. Our guys battled. Our guys played with grit and guts. We beat 'em. We beat 'em the last two days. They beat us the first two days."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on the series split

Mercer, who finished 2-for-4, went 9-for-17 with two homers and six RBIs in the four-game series. He has hit safely in 19 of his last 21 games against the Braves, carrying a .402 average during that stretch. Mercer's 32 hits against Atlanta since the start of the 2015 season are the most by any player outside the National League East.

Mercer's two-run double

After heading home Thursday night, the Pirates will begin a three-game series Friday against the Mets at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. The Bucs should be back at full strength, with Gregory Polanco expected to start in right field and Andrew McCutchen possibly making his return to the lineup. Right-hander Chad Kuhl, coming off a strong start against the Phillies, will pitch the opener against right-hander Zack Wheeler.

Braves: Jaime Garcia will take the mound when Atlanta begins a three-game series in San Francisco on Friday at 10:15 p.m. ET. The Braves have lost 22 of their last 26 road games against National League West opponents.

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Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.