By Will Graves
May 19, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco,left, is greeted by third base coach Rick Sofield, right, as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz in the second inning of a baseball game, Thursday, May 19, 2016, in Pittsburgh.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle moved Gregory Polanco into the third spot in the lineup earlier this month curious to see what the still somewhat raw left fielder could do.
Turns out, maybe a little bit of everything.
Polanco hit a two-run home off Mike Foltynewicz and later tripled and scored as the Pirates raced by the Atlanta Braves 8-2 on Thursday night for their fourth win in five games.
The 24-year-old Polanco is hitting .461 (12 for 26) in his last seven games, including his long drive to left center in the second, a spot in PNC Park few left-handed batters reach.
''It stands out in this ballpark when you can take it out there,'' Hurdle said. ''That's a big reach for right-handed hitters. When you get some lefty who can hit it out there, (you see) he's got that kind of power.''
Speed too. Polanco led off the fifth with a triple to right-center while hitting behind star Andrew McCutchen, a spot Polanco suddenly looks very comfortable in.
John Jaso went 3 for 4 with a triple, an RBI and two runs scored for the Pirates, who scored 29 runs while taking three of four from the Braves. Jaso led off the bottom of the first with a single and later scored when Starling Marte - returning from paternity leave following the birth of his daughter on Sunday - hit a blooper to right field that fell in front of Nick Markakis to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Jaso's two-out triple in the second eventually set up Polanco's shot that made it 5-0, giving starter Jeff Locke time to settle in.
Unlike teammates Jon Niese and Juan Nicasio, who labored while pitching with a significant lead earlier in the series, Locke (2-3) was steady. The left-hander has endured a rocky start at the back end of the rotation and was touched for six runs in a loss at the Chicago Cubs last Saturday.
Facing an offense that came in ranked near the bottom of the majors in most statistical categories, Locke found better luck. Though at least one Atlanta batter reached base in each of Locke's seven innings, he avoided major trouble to give Pittsburgh's scuffling bullpen a break while allowing two runs and seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks.
''We wanted to try and limit the damage as much as you can,'' Locke said. ''It feels good to eat up some innings.''
Following eight shutout innings in a win at Kansas City last Saturday, Foltynewicz struggled. The 23-year-old lasted just three innings, giving up five runs and seven hits as the Braves fell to 10-30, the worst record in the majors.
''I think I just tried to do too much,'' Foltynewicz said. ''I tried to throw the ball too hard. I tried to throw the slider and the curveball a little too much there in certain situations with two strikes. Everything was just up and they got the bat on it.''
Jeff Francouer went 3 for 4 with his fifth home run of the season for Atlanta.
Atlanta was forced to scratch Erick Aybar a few hours before the game after the shortstop arrived at PNC Park expressing discomfort in his chest after swallowing a chicken bone. He was taken to a local hospital and replaced by Daniel Castro, who went 0 for 4 as his averaged dropped to .198.
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Aybar was fine and returned to the team during the game but was unable to play because he'd been sedated while undergoing treatment.
LONG TIME COMING
Wilfredo Boscan pitched two scoreless innings in his major league debut for Pittsburgh, finally making his way onto the mound, a call he never received while getting called up from Triple-A Indianapolis three separate times last season.
''I've definitely been waiting for this opportunity since last year,'' Boscan said. ''It's been a very emotional night. I'm just excited to give my 100 percent.''
Boscan replaced reliever Cory Luebke, whose long comeback from two reconstructive elbow surgeries hit a speed bump when the Pirates sent him to Indianapolis. The 31-year-old Luebke made the team as a non-roster invitee in spring training but struggled in four appearances, including giving up three runs while getting just one out on Monday. Hurdle said he hopes Luebke, who missed three full seasons while his left elbow recovered, will get regular work in the minors in hopes of regaining his form.
Braves: The 10-game road trip continues Friday in Philadelphia. Matt Wisler (1-3, 3.14) will try to build on an impressive May. The 23-year-old is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA this month and has worked into the eighth inning in each of his last three starts.
Pirates: Open a three-game weekend series with the Colorado Rockies on Friday. Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.05), coming off eight shutout innings in a win over the Cubs last Sunday, will start. Pittsburgh swept three games from the Rockies in Colorado last month.