The Braves didn’t give Tim Hudson much run support in his first game off the disabled list, failing to take advantage of prime scoring opportunities. But they were up against Pittsburgh, and it doesn’t take much to outscore these Pirates.
Dan Uggla’s bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning put the Braves ahead and got Hudson the decision in a 4-3 win against the Pirates on Sunday before a crowd of 30,419 at Turner Field.
“It was exciting,” Hudson said after giving up two runs and six hits in five innings in his season debut, five months and one day after he underwent back surgery.
“You’ve got the big stadium and the fans and major league hitters over there ready to try to knock it down your throat. It was fun,” he said. “It’s great to be back and try to earn my paycheck.”
Martin Prado’s seventh-inning leadoff homer added an important insurance run for the Braves, who won for the 14th time in 18 games despite going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-3 in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with one out.
“First of all, their pitching staff – they’re good,” Prado said. “They don’t give up in that situation where we’ve got the bases loaded. They make the pitch. We got good at-bats, but that’s one of those days where you’re going to take whatever they give you.
“He walked Uggla in that situation, so we knew from there that we had a pretty good shot to win the game.”
Pirates starter Kevin Correia (1-1) walked Uggla to bring in the go-ahead run with one out — not the sort of game-winning RBI to which Uggla and his violent swing are typically associated.
“I’m [usually] up there to hack, try to get two or three ribbies rather than just one,” he said. “But in that situation you’ve got to take anything you can get. If they’re going to walk you, you’ve got to try and let them walk you. In that situation I was able to foul a couple off and he ended up walking me.”
The Braves moved into a first-place tie with Washington in the National League after the Nationals lost to the Dodgers on Sunday.
The Pirates have a league-low 49 runs in 21 games and have lost nine times in games in which opponents scored four or fewer runs.
Pittsburgh got a run in the ninth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel when Jose Tabata doubled with one out, advanced on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch. The Braves contended the pitch hit the foot of batter Garrett Jones.
“Coming in here and looking at the replay, it did [hit him in the foot],” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But it’s a tough play [to call].”
The was the first run charged to Kimbrel in a save situation this season. He struck out Jones to end the game for his eighth save in as many opportunities.
Hudson had to work plenty on a warm afternoon to limit the Pirates to two runs in five innings with umpire Doug Eddings calling a tight strike zone.
Hudson (1-0) had two walks and six strikeouts while throwing 63 strikes in 96 pitches. In the fourth inning he came off the mound to chat with Eddings after the umpire took offense to the way Hudson looked at him following a close pitch called a ball.
Jose Tabata’s bases-loaded groundball single up the right-field line gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead in the second. The inning began with Pedro Alvarez’s single over the head of rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who mistimed his jump after losing the ball in what he said was a “glare” above the low backstop wall.
Pastornicky had a similar incident Saturday night, again on a second-inning single (Rod Barajas) that began a two-run Pirates. That ball deflected off the shortstop’s glove.
“It’s tough because the back wall there is not very tall,” Pastornicky said, ”… so the seats start early, and it’s like a whole bunch of white [shirts]. I have to get low to see the ball off the bat. Up in this area it’s tough to see during the day; at night it’s tough too, but definitely during the day it’s tough to see.”
Pastornicky made amends with an RBI double in the fourth inning that tied the score at 2-all. The Braves got an unearned run in the third on a Freddie Freeman sacrifice fly (the Pirates had two errors in the inning).
Michael Bourn had three hits and raised his average to .436 in nine games at Turner Field, where the leadoff man is 7-for-13 in the first three games of a four-game series that ends Monday night.
The Braves assured themselves of at least a split with the Pirates and haven’t lost a series since being swept in three games at New York during an 0-4 start to the season.
They’ll send Mike Minor (3-1, 3.42 ERA) to the mound against Pirates right-hander James McDonald (0-1, 2.78) on Monday as the Braves try to win their sixth consecutive series.
It was a successful return for Hudson, who had lumbar spine-fusion surgery in the offseason. The 34-year-old right-hander made four minor league rehab starts before returning to the rotation and giving the Braves a veteran presence they lacked with him out and Derek Lowe traded to Cleveland in the offseason.
“All the young [starting pitchers] have been doing great, man,” Prado said. “They’re young, but at the same time they know what they’re doing, and they’re getting better and better. Now with Huddy back, I think they’re going to feel more comfortable and more confident about it. We all are.”