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Bucs' comeback falls short vs. Braves

Bucs' comeback falls short vs. Braves

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ATLANTA -- The Pirates have to be glad they are heading home. The road hasn't been kind to them.

After a 1-6 trip that ended with five consecutive losses, the Pirates are 9-19 away from PNC Park and a season-worst 11 games under .500 heading into Memorial Day.

"Obviously, we're not swinging the bats," manager John Russell said after Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Braves. "We're not scoring enough runs and putting pressure on the pitching staff. It's got to change."

The Pirates managed just four hits and have scored only 25 runs while winning twice in the past 11 games. That won't cut it, wherever they're playing.

"We have to do a better job," Russell said. "That's the bottom line. It's what we've been saying for weeks now. Unfortunately, we haven't found that groove where we start scoring runs. Until we do, like I said, we're putting a lot of pressure on our pitchers."

The bullpen has been a bright spot for the Pirates, but it couldn't get the job done Sunday, as the Braves completed a sweep while winning for the 15th time in 19 games.

Unlike for the Braves, nothing much is going right for the Pirates.

After Pittsburgh tied the game on a two-run homer by Jeff Clement in the seventh inning, the Braves took the lead back in the eighth on a bloop single by pinch-hitter Chipper Jones with two outs that just eluded shortstop Ronny Cedeno.

"It was a couple of inches," Cedeno said, when asked how close he had come to making the catch. "It was drifting and I couldn't shift my body to get to it."

The pinch-hit off Joel Hanrahan by Jones came after two walks. Braves rookie sensation Jason Heyward then smashed a two-run triple off Javier Lopez to break the game open.

"I didn't hit my spot, but it turned out to be a good pitch," Hanrahan said. "He's Chipper Jones for a reason I guess. It's a game of inches, right? Or is that football?"

"Sometimes you have to make your own destiny," Russell said, knowing that coming close isn't worth much in anything except horseshoes.

Maybe the Pirates need a lucky horseshoe.

Maybe a return to PNC Park, where the Pirates are 11-12, will get the team going offensively.

"I hope so," said Russell.

Other than Clement's homer off Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, the Pirates did little at the plate despite yet another lineup shuffle by Russell.

The Pirates had just two baserunners in the first five innings and Kawakami appeared in complete control until walking Garrett Jones leading off the seventh after an apparent strike-three was ruled a foul tip.

"I think we're all trying to do too much," said Clement, whose fifth homer was a long blast to center field. "We have to keep it simple and relax. But that is easier said than done."

Starter Paul Maholm allowed 10 hits over the first six innings for the Pirates. But he limited the damage by stranding 10, as the Braves left the bases loaded in the second and third innings. He struck out five and walked three, throwing 113 pitches.

Troy Glaus had a first-inning sacrifice fly for the Braves, and hit his seventh homer leading off the third inning. The drive to left field came on a 0-2 pitch that Maholm made too good.

The left-hander had pitched seven scoreless innings at Cincinnati in his previous start, where he also got a no-decision, and hadn't allowed a home run in four games. He appeared headed to his fifth loss until Clement tied the game.

"Clem's home run got us back into it," Maholm said. "Fortunately I was able to get through six innings. It was a tough six innings."

"He got in a lot of jams, but found ways to get out of them," Russell said. "I give him a lot of credit. It could have been a whole lot worse."

But the Pirates just aren't scoring. They've scored more than three runs only once in the past 11 games -- and that was in a loss.

Cedeno was moved up to sixth in the batting order after reaching base safely in 19 consecutive games, but that streak came to an end. Pittsburgh's losing streak didn't.

The Pirates play three games against the Cubs at PNC Park, followed by a needed day off on Thursday. They are in a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

"Hopefully we can get it going soon," Maholm said. "Right now, it's frustrating. We're looking forward to getting home."

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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