Downpours, Lowe sink Bucs' ship
Duke allows seven runs in five innings in series-opening loss
ATLANTA -- The Pirates were able to complete batting practice before the first thunderstorm hit, but they still weren't ready to face Derek Lowe any more than usual.
Pittsburgh still has yet to beat the Braves right-hander, who improved to 9-0 against the Pirates with a 7-3 victory on a rainy Friday night that included an 81-minute delay at the start and a 70-minute interruption in the top of the ninth inning.
Lowe (7-4) allowed one run on four hits over seven innings as the Pirates' offensive woes continued against the veteran sinkerball pitcher, who came in with a 2.96 career ERA against them.
All in all, it couldn't have been more of a wasted night for the Pirates.
The game didn't end until 12:32 a.m. ET, and the two delays were longer than the playing time -- 2:31 compared to 2:26.
After the interruption with a runner on first and one out in the top of the ninth, Braves reliever Jonny Venters needed just two minutes to strike out Jeff Clement and Bobby Crosby, throwing eight pitches.
That was the kind of efficiency Lowe had in his seven innings as he continued his mastery of the Pirates.
"I didn't even know about it until the last start," said Lowe, who beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh last Saturday. "I have no idea [why I've had the success]. I really don't."
Pirates starter Zach Duke waited out the delay at the beginning and then gave up four first-inning runs, that were too much to overcome against Lowe.
The loss was the Pirates' seventh in the past nine games and they have scored just 20 runs during the stretch.
"There are a few guys out there that, for whatever reason, have a lot of success against one particular team," Duke said when asked about Lowe's mastery. "It's obviously not against these particular guys for his whole career, because it's a totally new clubhouse, it seems, every couple of years."
Duke held the Braves to an unearned run in a no-decision last Sunday in Pittsburgh, but he allowed 12 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings this time while falling to 3-5.
The left-hander didn't blame the weather or the delayed first pitch. After all, Lowe had to deal with the same situation.
"That's part of the game," Duke said. "It's not my first time to pitch in the rain."
"It didn't bother Lowe too much," Pirates manager John Russell said.
The Braves sent eight men to the plate in the first inning and scored four times, the big blow a three-run double by David Ross with two out. Then Lowe doubled leading off the second and scored on a hit by Chipper Jones.
"Unfortunately, the first inning really hurt him," Russell said of Duke. "He threw the ball pretty well after that."
Lowe needed just 29 pitches to get through the first three innings, facing the minimum nine batters, because Garrett Jones was thrown out trying to steal after a leadoff single in the second inning.
The Pirates' run off Lowe came in the fourth inning when Jones, who was 2-for-3 with a double, hit a sacrifice fly following a double by Neil Walker and a single from Andrew McCutchen.
Lowe was much more efficient than when he beat the Pirates, 4-2, last Saturday in Pittsburgh. He needed 99 pitches to make it through five innings in that game, allowing five hits and walking four to go with five strikeouts. This time he threw 93 pitches in seven innings, walking one and striking out two.
"He keeps the ball on the ground and keeps you off balance," Russell said of Lowe. "He did a good job."
Pinch-hitter Andy LaRoche and Walker had RBI doubles in the eighth inning off Atlanta reliever Eric O'Flaherty, but by then the Pirates were down 7-1, after Duke gave up two runs during a sixth inning in which he walked Lowe to get things started.
Duke, again getting little run support, lost for the fifth time in his last six decisions as his career record fell to 40-60.
Steven Jackson, promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis when Charlie Morton went on the disabled list on Friday, relieved Duke and was a bright spot for the Pirates. The right-hander stranded two inherited runners in the sixth and tossed a scoreless seventh, working around a single and getting his second strikeout.
Another positive for the Pirates was the work of rookie Walker, who hit the ball hard three times and is batting .294 in four games since moving up from Indianapolis.
Still, it wasn't a fun night at the ballpark for Walker or any of the Pirates.
"[The rain delays] makes it tough because you don't feel like you can get in any kind of rhythm, and obviously, it's a drain on the pitchers, too," Walker said. "You just have to hone in to keep yourself prepared as much as you can."
The Braves are 18-8 since a nine-game losing streak that ended April 30 and have won 13 of their past 17 games. But the story on a rainy night in Georgia was Lowe's nine career victories in as many starts against the Pirates.
"I guess certain guys just feel more comfortable against certain teams," Walker said of Lowe. "He had his good stuff working, and he was spotting up his pitches."
A Pittsburgh native, Walker was asked if he knew of Lowe's past success against the Pirates.
"Yeah, vaguely ... not too much," the young infielder said. "But I do remember him doing pretty well against us."
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.