PITTSBURGH — Alex Wood can tell the instant a breaking ball leaves his hand whether he has a feel for it on a given day. When he does, the Atlanta Braves lefty can be dominant.
Wood pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning Sunday to win for the first time in five starts, and the Braves held on for a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Wood (5-5) scattered five hits and struck out eight without a walk in 7 1-3 innings as Atlanta ended a season-high, five-game losing streak.
“When you get all three (pitches) going, those usually turn into pretty fun days,” Wood said. “We needed a win today and everybody came to play and definitely it feels good to get out of Pittsburgh with a W.”
Jace Peterson hit his third homer for the Braves. Chris Johnson added two hits and Nick Markakis drove in a run. Jason Grilli gave up a run during an eventful ninth but earned his 21st save.
Pirates star Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 4 after getting hit on the left elbow Saturday by a pitch from Julio Teheran. McCutchen wore a large brace for protection after experimenting with a couple of them before the game.
Wood’s only real spot of trouble came in the seventh when McCutchen and Starling Marte hit consecutive singles to start the inning. Francisco Cervelli, who came in batting .389 against lefties, tried to bunt for a hit. Wood kept his feet and threw out Cervelli, credited with a sacrifice as the runners advanced. But Wood struck out Jordy Mercer and got Sean Rodriguez to fly out.
“I was honestly surprised Cervelli bunted there,” Wood said.
So was Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
“He thought he was going to make a baseball play and give the guy behind him an opportunity,” Hurdle said. “The guy made a good play. I don’t have a ‘Don’t bunt for a base hit’ sign. He had a feel for it.”
Cervelli defended the move, saying he would do it again if given the chance.
Atlanta didn’t do much against Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke (4-4), managing only an RBI single by Markakis in the fifth. Peterson homered off reliever Vance Worley in the seventh to give the Braves a little breathing room.
Grilli, an All-Star closer for the Pirates in 2013 who took the loss in a 10-inning defeat on Friday, made Wood’s hard work hold up but not without some excitement.
Cervelli walked with two outs and Mercer sent a long drive to the wall in left-center. Cameron Maybin and Eury Perez collided when both tried to make the catch. The ball glanced off Maybin’s glove as Cervelli scored and Mercer raced to second with his third hit of the game.
Perez stayed down for several moments but walked off the field without assistance. Grilli struck out pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco to end it.
“Luckily, Cameron Maybin’s OK and Eury got checked,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It was more of his torso than it was the head. But there’s nothing there. Hopefully we dodged a bullet there.”
McCutchen appeared just fine less than 24 hours after the first inning of Saturday’s game when Teheran’s 92 mph fastball smacked him in the elbow, the eighth time this season and the 48th time in his career he’s been hit. The 2013 NL MVP joked he might need to “drop kick” an opposing pitcher to stop getting buzzed. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise and texted Hurdle on Sunday morning saying he was good to go.
Wearing a large black pad on the elbow, McCutchen didn’t appear limited at the plate. He hit three long fly balls to go with his single.
“I just found whatever worked,” McCutchen said. “I tried on a couple of them. Said, ‘This one worked.’ Pretty easy. Pretty simple.”
MOVING UP, MOVING OUT
Braves: Atlanta brought up reliever Ryan Kelly from Triple-A Gwinnett and sent struggling RHP Sugar Ray Marimon back to the minors.
Pirates: The odd career of Pirates OF Jose Tabata took another turn when Pittsburgh designated him for assignment for a second time. Tabata, who signed a six-year contract in 2011 and is due $4 million this season, hit .289 in 27 games with the Pirates after beginning the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. General manager Neal Huntington said he believes Tabata is open to returning to the minors if he clears waivers. The Pirates called up OF Gorkys Hernandez and immediately inserted him into the lineup. Hernandez went hitless in his first appearance in the majors since 2012.
Braves: Atlanta returns home for a three-game series with Washington beginning on Tuesday. The Nationals swept Atlanta last week, outscoring the Braves 12-2 in the process. Shelby Miller (5-3, 1.94 ERA) goes for his first victory in nearly six weeks.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole will try to bounce back from his worst performance of the year when the Pirates open a three-game set in Detroit on Tuesday. Cole (11-3, 2.16 ERA) leads the majors in wins but was touched up by Cincinnati for a season-high five runs in 4 2-3 innings last Wednesday, his first loss in more than a month.