PITTSBURGH — Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons homered to begin a six-run first inning, and the Atlanta Braves beat the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 on Monday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
The early outburst was enough for Ervin Santana, who allowed three solo homers among nine hits in 5 1-3 innings. Santana (13-6) improved to 8-1 over his past 10 starts.
Pittsburgh has lost six in a row. Starling Marte went deep twice, and Neil Walker added a homer that became the first to reach the Allegheny River beyond right field at PNC Park this season.
Relievers Luis Avilan, David Hale and James Russell combined for 3 2-3 hitless innings for Atlanta, which broke a tie with Pittsburgh for third place in the National League wild-card standings.
Heyward and Simmons started the game with the Braves' fifth set of back-to-back home runs this season, and it got worse from there for Vance Worley (5-3). Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird had run-scoring singles as Atlanta bolted to a 6-0 lead.
Worley managed to pitch six innings and was charged with five earned runs. He allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked two.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez started at first base in his first career appearance at any spot other than third.
Because the Braves did not arrive in Pittsburgh until early Monday morning, manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to rest regulars B.J. Upton and Evan Gattis.
Heyward had three hits and a sacrifice fly.
Braves: During a rehabilitation outing for Triple-A Gwinnett, RHP Shae Simmons (right shoulder strain) did not record an out and was charged with four runs. He walked two and allowed two hits while throwing 21 pitches.
Pirates: After taking live batting practice prior to the game, OF Andrew McCutchen (left rib fracture) said he expects to come off the DL on Tuesday. ... SS Jordy Mercer (right forearm tightness) was not in the lineup for the fourth consecutive game.
Braves: Tuesday starter RHP Aaron Harang (9-7, 3.51 ERA) has 15 career wins against the Pirates.
Pirates: Despite having a 2.36 ERA over 42 innings in seven starts since coming off the DL, LHP Francisco Liriano (3-9, 3.78 ERA) has lost three of five decisions. He's lost his past two outings.