Locke hit hard, Martin hurt in loss to Braves

Lefty allows six runs; catcher cautious with hammy; Bucs still 1 1/2 out

Locke hit hard, Martin hurt in loss to Braves

ATLANTA -- The Pirates' rumble down the stretch hit a major road bump Wednesday night. Oh, they lost a game, too.

But even a 6-2 defeat to the Braves that crossed a valuable day off the dwindling regular-season schedule didn't carry the weight of the mid-game departure of catcher Russell Martin with a hamstring issue.

The Bucs still aim higher for the National League Central title -- Wednesday's costly loss kept them 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals, who also lost, to the Cubs in Chicago. But Pittsburgh is already assured of a voice in postseason play, as at least an NL Wild Card entrant.

It is questionable how high it can raise that voice without a hale Martin, who departed in the middle of the fourth inning with tightness in his left hamstring.

The best sign was that Martin attributed his departure to that very dependence on his October contribution.

"With the direction we're heading now, it was just the smart, cautious decision to make," Martin said. "We didn't want to possibly make it worse and be remorseful."

Martin felt the hamstring grip as he dove back into first base on a second-inning pickoff attempt by Atlanta starter Julio Teheran, off whom he had singled. The catcher remained in the game for two more innings, then stayed on the bench at the start of the bottom of the fourth.

"It wasn't a risk worth pushing," manager Clint Hurdle said.

A strain of that hamstring had Martin on the disabled list earlier this season, from April 26 to May 22. The Pirates were 10-11 during that stretch.

"My hammy is the way it's been the whole year," Martin said. "There have been better days, worse days."

Martin was 1-for-2 against Teheran, raising his average to .295 the night after having his 13-game hitting streak halted.

Martin's greatest value, however, is behind the plate as the conductor of the terrific pitching that had led the Bucs to 15 wins in 18 games entering Wednesday's action.

The catcher disdained his usual periodic days off as the Pirates barreled down the stretch. Even though they had clinched a postseason berth with Tuesday's victory, Martin remained in the starting lineup for the 14th time in 16 games.

Given that the Bucs are already assured of a postseason presence, might Martin take some time off now to ensure being in the best possible condition when the playoff bell rings?

"We'll evaluate how he feels in the morning, and make a decision based on that," general manager Neal Huntington said.

"I don't want to speak too fast," Martin said. "I want to see how I feel [Thursday] when I wake up, and we'll make a decision from there."

Blowing up an impressive run by Pittsburgh starting pitching, Jeff Locke lasted only four innings in helping the Braves out of their extended hitting slump. The six runs off Locke matched Atlanta's biggest output in its previous 22 games; the Braves had scored a total of six runs in their last five games.

Locke continued an interesting September pattern of alternating solid starts with poor ones. Since he had held the Brewers to two runs in seven innings the last time out, he was "scheduled" for an off night.

"I don't plan in that way, for sure. It's just the way it falls sometimes," Locke said. "I just didn't bring good stuff to the game today."

Asked what had not gone right against the Braves, Locke had to force a smile and say, "Pretty much the whole game."

His manager could not disagree.

"He was up in the zone with his stuff," Hurdle said. "The consistency wasn't there with either the fastball or the secondary stuff. It was tough for him out there. It just wasn't a good night for him."

Since Aug. 19, the Pirates have faced a deficit greater than three runs only twice: Wednesday night, and on Sept. 13; that, too, was Locke's game, against the Cubs.

Emilio Bonifacio added a Braves page to his torment of the Pirates (as a Cub, he was 16-for-26 against them in the first week of the season) with a two-run single in the second inning, Teheran lined his own two-run single in the third and Justin Upton drilled a two-run homer in the fourth.

Andrew McCutchen, whose home run had accounted for the only scoring in the Bucs' 1-0 victory Monday, repeated the solo act. His two-run homer in the fifth, No. 25 of the year, was the only time the Pirates could get to Teheran, who otherwise worked through several threats to survive five innings for his 14th win.

"Locke didn't throw the way we've gotten used to. Otherwise," McCutchen said, waving off any lingering effects from Tuesday's celebrations, "it was like any other day at the park. We just have to show up [Thursday] and get the job done."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.