PITTSBURGH — Abraham Almonte is starting to get the hang of this whole pinch-hitting thing.
The Atlanta Braves outfielder delivered a go-ahead, two-run single in the sixth inning and added a two-run home run as the Atlanta Braves avoided a sweep by surging past the Pittsburgh Pirates 14-3 on Thursday.
Three days after a pinch-hit double in the ninth helped fuel a comeback win against Miami, Almonte did it again with a sharp ground ball in the sixth off Kyle Crick (1-1) that started a five-run outburst. Almonte followed with a shot to the seats in right-center field during a seven-run eighth as the Braves piled on following a 1-hour, 18-minute rain delay.
“He’s had two pinch hits and knocked in runs on both of them,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "He’s a good fit for that because of his patience. He’s not afraid to get into a count and hit.
Almonte is transitioning from starter to more of a bench role, one that requires a shift in mindset.
“I try to be more calm when I’m playing every day,” Almonte said. "And when I’ve got to come from the bench, I’ve got to be sharp from the first pitch they’re making.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his 24th home run for the Braves while going 3 for 5. Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Ehire Adrianza and Austin Riley all had two hits apiece for Atlanta.
Drew Smyly (7-3) overcame giving up a three-run home run to Jacob Stallings in the first inning to win his fifth straight start. Smyly labored through five innings, allowing nine hits and three walks while striking out four. Four relievers made it stand up thanks to an offense that came to life late.
“It’s a long season and there’s a lot more starts to be had and the second half is going to be big,” Smyly said. "So hopefully I can stay right where I am and keep progressing moving forward.”
All-Star starting second baseman Adam Frazier had two hits for Pittsburgh but struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth as the potential tying run. Recently acquired first baseman John Nogowski went 4 for 5 and is hitting .583 (7 for 12) since being brought over from St. Louis. Nogowski also pitched a scoreless ninth inning after things got out of hand.
“I didn’t really prepare too much for pitching coming over here,” said Nogowski, who did make seven pitching appearances in the minors. "But it worked out.”
The Pirates, however, saw their modest three-game winning streak come to a halt after going 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position while leaving 14 men on base.
Wil Crowe kept Atlanta in check for 4 2/3 innings and when Clay Holmes came on to get the final out of the fifth after the Braves put two men on to preserve a 3-2 lead, the Pirates appeared to be in OK shape.
Not so much. Crick walked the first two batters of the sixth. Recently promoted veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Almonte stepped in and sent a roller that went against the shift and rolled into center field to put Atlanta in front to stay.
Lucroy, a two-time All-Star for Milwaukee in 2014 and 2016, went 1 for 3 with an RBI single in the eighth after being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves signed Lucroy in mid-May to address depth issues after Tyler Flowers retired. To make room for Lucroy, Atlanta optioned 23-year-old catcher William Contreras to Triple-A.
NO HURRY AT No. 1
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said the team has had a handful of prospects in for meetings ahead of the first-year player draft that starts on Sunday. The Pirates hold the first overall pick for the first time since 2011 when they selected pitcher Gerrit Cole. Cherington is not tipping his hand other than to say the top players are tightly packed together.
“There’s good players in this draft and let’s get as many as we can,” Cherington said. "(First overall) is important. It’s the first choice. It means it’s our choice on how to start the draft. It is important to us that we select a player that can help us win games, but beyond that, we’re not putting more into it than that.”
Braves: 2B Ozzie Albies exited after five innings as a precaution due to stiffness in his neck and was replaced by Adrianza. Snitker expects Albies to be fine.
Pirates: LHP Steven Brault (left lat strain) will make his first rehab start on Sunday for Class A Bradenton before moving on to Triple-A Indianapolis. ... 1B Colin Moran (fractured wrist) is still not swinging a bat. ... RF Gregory Polanco is dealing with a core injury but should return after the All-Star break.
Braves: Are off Thursday before ending the first half with a three-game weekend series in Miami. Charlie Morton (7-3, 3.91 ERA) is 0-1 with a 7.63 ERA in three starts against the Marlins this season.
Pirates: Begin a four-game set against the Mets in New York on Thursday night. JT Brubaker (4-8, 4.09) is winless on the road since April 16.