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PIT@ATL: Freeman opens the scoring with two-run shot

ATLANTA -- Unlike when he was first rushed to the Majors, Mike Minor expresses genuine confidence about his ability to compete at the Major League level. But even as Chipper Jones and his other veteran teammates sing his praises, Minor is still apt to occasionally display his youth.

Minor's initiation phase hit a cruel patch as he allowed a pair of home runs and surrendered a career-high seven runs on Monday night. His struggles allowed the Pirates to enjoy their finest offensive performance of the year and exit Atlanta with a 9-3 win over the Braves.

"They showed if I don't make good pitches what happens to me," Minor said. "Tonight, I didn't really have command of any pitches. I had a lot of strikeouts. But, I don't really have an explanation of why. I was just really inconsistent."

Two-run home runs by Pedro Alvarez and Yamaico Navarro accounted for most of the damage incurred by Minor, who was charged with eight hits and seven earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. The 24-year-old left-hander has now allowed two home runs or more in three of his 28 career starts.

While Minor was being damaged by the long ball, Pirates starter James McDonald overcame Freddie Freeeman's two-run homer in the first inning and limited the Braves to just one more run in his 7 2/3-innings effort. The lanky right-hander has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his first five starts.

With Freddie Freeman's home run and Eric Hinske's fourth-inning RBI single accounting for their only offense, the Braves had to settle for a split in the four-game series. They have not lost a series since being swept by the Mets to open the season.

The Braves could have gained sole possession of first place in the National League East with a win on Monday night. Instead, they will enter Tuesday's game against the Phillies trailing the first-place Nationals by a half-game.

"The [Pirates] have one of the better pitching staffs in the National League to me," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "They came out there every day with somebody that was able to pitch."

This was not necessarily the night to predict a rare offensive eruption for the Pirates, who entered the series finale having not scored more than five runs in their first 21 games. Minor had allowed four earned runs in the 21 1/3 innings he had worked since encountering trouble in his April 8 season debut.

"I think he got a little erratic there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He couldn't get any of his stuff over the plate. He had to come back over the plate and they capitalized on it. He's been so good, he's allowed to have one of these outings."

Minor worked a perfect first inning and impressively escaped the second inning unscathed after the Pirates had put runners on the corners with no outs. But a leadoff walk to Rod Barajas, who entered hitting .130, led to trouble in a two-run third inning that included a Jose Tabata double and Josh Harrison's soft RBI single.

"If you walk the leadoff guy, they deserve to score right there, because that's a lack of focus or one of those days when I just didn't have my stuff," Minor said.

Minor struggled to command his fastball and find any consistency with his curveball. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Alvarez, his former Vanderbilt teammate, gained bragging rights when he drilled a first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall for a two-run home run in the fourth inning.

It was just the second home run Minor has allowed to a left-handed hitter in his career.

"That's what good hitters do and I know how good he is, because I went to college with him," Minor said. "I knew he could do that. I just left it over the plate."

Navarro's two-run home run in the sixth inning could have been deemed even more surprising. The light-hitting utility man had hit just one home run in his previous 117 career at-bats.

It seemed like the Braves might stage their own power barrage when Freeman's aggressive approach paid dividends as he drilled a two-run, first-inning home run on McDonald's first-pitch fastball. The Braves' first baseman entered the game having swung at the first pitch 57.6 percent of the time.

McDonald killed a number of scoring threats. He pitched around Tyler Pastornicky's second-inning double and followed Hinske's seventh-inning leadoff double with three consecutive strikeouts of Pastornicky, Juan Francisco and Bourn.

Hinske accounted for half of Atlanta's eight hits. His four-hit performance matched a career-high total that he had not produced since 2004.

"I thought we had McDonald on the ropes a couple times and he started throwing that curveball over for a strike and got us off balance a little bit," Gonzalez said. "We hit some balls hard."

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