Joyce, Niese lead Pirates to 8-5 win over Braves
PITTSBURGH (AP) Matt Joyce made the most of his opportunity filling in for Starling Marte.
Joyce homered among his three hits and drove in three runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to an 8-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
Gregory Polanco had three hits and three runs scored, and Jon Niese pitched six effective innings to help the Pirates snap a four-game home losing streak.
Joyce stepped into the starting lineup and played right field as Marte was placed on the paternity list before the game after his wife gave birth to their daughter Monday morning. Polanco moved from right field to left to take Marte's spot.
''We have a very talented outfield here so it's tough to crack the lineup very often,'' Joyce said. ''I'm just happy to contribute when I get an opportunity.''
Joyce is hitting .372 with five home runs after signing a minor league contract early in spring training. The Pirates and San Diego Padres were the only two teams interested after he batted .174 with five homers for the Los Angeles Angels.
Joyce worked with two hitting instructors in the offseason near his home in the Tampa, Florida, area and also played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
''It feels great to be able to have this type of success after the work in the offseason,'' Joyce said. ''I didn't know which way my career was going to go. I'm extremely happy that I've bounced back to show I can still be a major league player.''
Joyce connected for his fifth home run, a two-run shot deep into the right-field bleachers, off Alexi Ogando in the seventh inning to increase the Pirates' lead to 8-2.
Niese (4-2) allowed two runs and five hits with six strikeouts and two walks. It was just Niese's third quality start in eight outings this season, though the Pirates are 6-2 in the games he has pitched, and he improved his career record against the Braves to 10-6.
The Braves put the leadoff hitter on in each of the first four innings but Niese escaped unscathed each time.
''I pitch fast but I just tried to slow myself down and I was able to make some big pitches when I needed to,'' Niese said.
Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 12th save in 13 opportunities.
David Freese had two of the 13 hits by the Pirates (20-17). Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison each drove in two runs.
Cervelli drove in a run with a ground out in a three-run first inning off Williams Perez (1-1) and had an RBI single in two-run third. Harrison also had a run-producing ground out and tripled in a run in the fifth to push the lead to 6-0.
Perez gave up six runs and nine hits in six innings as the Braves lost for the ninth time in 11 games in falling to a major league-worst 9-28.
Atlanta's runs came on a pair of home runs – a two-run shot by Jeff Francoeur in the sixth inning off Niese that made it 6-2 and a three-run shot by Kelly Johnson in the eighth off Cory Luebke that cut the deficit to 8-5.
It was the first multi-homer game since opening day for the Braves, who have gone deep just 11 times in 37 games, easily the lowest figure in the major leagues. Francoeur and Johnson both connected for the first time this season.
''It bothers your pride when you're into mid-May and the majority are looking at zero in the home run column,'' Johnson said. ''Most home runs are circumstantial but you run into some over the course of the season. We have the power for it to happen and hopefully we'll start getting runs in bunches.''
Johnson and Freddie Freeman had two hits each for the Braves.
INF/OF Alen Hanson was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Marte's roster spot. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning in his major league debut.
Braves: RHP Shea Simmons began a rehab assignment Monday night with Triple-A Gwinnett by striking out the side in one scoreless inning while allowing one hit and one walk. He began the season on the disabled list after also missing the entire 2015 season while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
Braves: RHP Aaron Blair (0-2, 4.05 ERA) will look for his first win in his fifth career start on Tuesday night.
Pirates: RHP Juan Nicasio (3-3, 4.34) is 1-3 with an 8.44 ERA against the Braves in nine career appearances, including six starts.