Bucs' bats cooled in loss to Braves

Bucs' bats cooled in loss to Braves

PITTSBURGH -- Atlanta lefty Chuck James handcuffed the struggling Pirates offense as the Braves downed Pittsburgh, 9-2, on Saturday night at PNC Park in front of 34,775 fans.

The Pirates have dropped two straight to Atlanta and 10 of their last 14 games.

Pirates starter Tony Armas lasted two-plus innings in his shortest stint of the season. He was charged with five runs (four earned) on seven hits. Armas suffered the loss to fall to 0-3 on the campaign.

"When you are trying to get your offense on track and you dig a six-run hole for yourselves it compounds the problem," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy. "We didn't pitch particularly well in the early part of the game. We didn't get our first base hit until the seventh inning. That's a very lopsided game and one that you just let go and you come back tomorrow."

James authored his most effective outing of the season for the Braves. He had his longest outing of the year, hurling seven innings, and surrendering no runs on one hit. James picked up the win, upping his record to 4-3.

"[James] used his fastball and he threw his changeup," Tracy said. "I know we didn't get a base hit until the seventh inning, but I didn't see us get ourselves out. There were a few pitches that we had a chance to hit pretty good and we put the ball in play. We miss-hit the ball. There were some fly balls that we took a pretty good pass at the ball, but we didn't center it very well."

Pirates left fielder Jason Bay said the Atlanta left-hander was on top of his game.

"He was throwing a lot of strikes," said Bay. "We had just talked earlier before we went out there about not being overly aggressive and having teams kind of nibble on us, and getting ourselves out. And then we went out there with a game plan and he just went right after us and got ahead. He's got a good changeup, so you've got be mindful of that. He threw a lot of fastballs for strikes. He pitched well."

Atlanta posted three runs against Armas in the top of the second inning. First baseman Scott Thorman delivered the big blow, as he deposited an 0-1 offering from Armas into the right-center-field stands for a three-run home run. It was Thorman's fourth home run of the season.

The Braves made it an early evening for Armas in the third, tacking on two more runs. One run scored on Andruw Jones' fielder's choice to third base and Brian McCann knocked in the other run with an RBI single, giving the Braves a 5-0 lead.

The Braves increased their lead to 6-0 in the fourth inning when Willie Harris stoked an RBI double off Bucs reliever Marty McLeary.

Jeff Francouer had an RBI single in the top of the seventh inning to drive in Jones, who had doubled off Pittsburgh reliever Shawn Chacon. The run gave Atlanta a 7-0 advantage.

Bay broke up James' bid for a no-hitter with a single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Pittsburgh broke through against Braves reliever Chad Paronto in the bottom of the eighth when Jose Bautista singled and came home on a RBI double by Jack Wilson. Chris Duffy lofted a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Wilson and cutting the Atlanta lead to 7-2.

Thorman registered the first two-homer game of his career when he took Jonah Bayliss deep with a two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning, upping the Atlanta lead to 9-2.

The game marked the 19th time this season that the Pirates scored three runs or fewer.

"It's terrible," Bay said. "Everyone wants to know what the magic potion is. Fire [hitting coach] Jeff Manto? [He] is definitely not the problem. It all falls on the hitters, and until we make a conscious effort to start changing what we're doing and doing it ourselves, it's not going to change.

"Everyone wants to shake up the lineup. But we're still the same guys in there. We've just got to take it upon ourselves to take it personal and go out there and turn it around."

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