PITTSBURGH — The regulars are returning from injuries and ailments, so maybe their Atlanta Braves backups figured it’s time to take advantage of the swings they’re getting.
Martin Prado and David Ross hit three-run homers to support Javier Vazquez’s six shutout innings and the Braves finally found their missing offense, beating Pittsburgh 11-1 on Sunday to end a five-game losing streak.
The Braves hadn’t scored in 22 innings and the Pirates hadn’t allowed a run in 21 innings, a pair of streaks that ended when Jeff Francoeur’s two-run single keyed a three-run first inning against Zach Duke (2-1). Atlanta kept piling on the hits and runs, finishing with seven extra-base hits among its 15 hits.
“I always felt like that was one of the things I was better at, getting a timely hit, getting a big hit for the team and hopefully I can get back to that,” said Francoeur, who drove in three runs. “We needed something like that to give us some momentum.”
Third baseman Chipper Jones returned after missing four games with a bruised thumb and second baseman Yunel Escobar, who strained an abdominal muscle on Thursday, is due back Monday in Washington. With catcher Brian McCann also out with blurry vision in his left eye, the Braves’ lineup was becoming depleted.
“You can do without one person in the lineup, but when you get two or three people out, it starts getting tough and you start pressing to score runs,” Francoeur said. “You can’t do that, not in this game.”
Left fielder Garret Anderson was pulled in the fourth with quadriceps tightness, but the Braves are encouraged that they’re finally getting close to putting the lineup on the field they envisioned.
Prado, filling in for Escobar, connected in the fourth to make it 6-0 and Ross, starting for McCann, went deep during a four-run seventh against Craig Hansen. Prado and Ross each homered for the first time this season.
“We got our offense rolling a little bit,” manager Bobby Cox said.
Atlanta had only 10 hits combined while losing the first two games of the three-game series, 3-0 Friday and 10-0 Saturday, and hadn’t scored since the fifth inning of a 6-2 loss to Florida on Thursday. Before breaking out against Duke and three relievers, the Braves had been outscored 34-7 during their losing streak and were in danger of being swept in successive three-game series by Florida and Pittsburgh.
“Obviously, it’s important — you never want to get swept and we weren’t playing as well the last few games,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez (1-1) permitted 10 earned runs in 12 innings over two starts against the Pirates the previous two seasons, but he didn’t need all the offense he received Sunday. He struck out eight, gave up five hits and walked one, throwing 71 of 98 pitches for strikes in his first win for Atlanta.
He has 20 strikeouts in 12 innings over his last two starts, 12 during a 5-1 loss to Florida on Tuesday.
“I’ve been impressed with him every single game,” Cox said. “He gets a lot of strikeouts, he’s around the plate, he throws a lot of strikes.”
Maybe Duke, who turned 26, should ask not to pitch again on his birthday. Duke, coming off a four-hit shutout against Houston on Monday, gave up 12 hits and six runs in six innings to raise his ERA from 0.59 to 2.59. Duke lost 7-5 to Milwaukee two years ago on his birthday.
“The command wasn’t there. My fastball wasn’t sharp, and my breaking ball wasn’t breaking,” Duke said.
Manager John Russell said he liked what Duke was throwing, but, he said, “He couldn’t get it where he wanted it to go.”
All the Braves’ runs scored with two outs, including the three they got in the first after Prado doubled with one out but was trapped off second on Jones’ hard-hit ball to shortstop. Anderson doubled, Francoeur singled and Casey Kotchman added an RBI single.
Francoeur hit a run-scoring double in the seventh ahead of Ross’ homer, which gave the catcher his first three RBIs this season.
Notes: Duke had allowed one earned run in his previous 15 1-3 innings. ... Jones went 1-for-3 and scored twice. He is 7-for-9 against Duke the last two seasons and 9-for-19 against him in his career. ... Anderson is listed as day to day. ... Pittsburgh was denied its first three-game sweep of Atlanta since April 29-May 1, 1994. ... The Pirates had won six of their previous seven against the Braves. ... Atlanta avoided its first six-game losing streak since Aug. 17-22.