Braves bats come to life vs. Bucs

Braves bats come to life vs. Bucs

ATLANTA -- Braves catcher Brian McCann has said that his selection as a National League All-Star was almost undeserved due to his struggles at the plate during the season's first half, and the performance of teammates who didn't make the team instead of him.

Friday night was further proof that McCann should consider a personal re-vote.

McCann hit two home runs and a double, continuing the surge he started after being selected to the All-Star team 12 days earlier. McCann's offense and Atlanta's big sixth inning backed starting pitcher Tim Hudson's seven scoreless innings in the Braves' 9-1 win over the Pirates at Turner Field.

The Braves have won four straight home games for the first time since April 7-11, and stand 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East, the closest they've been to first place since June 21.

McCann is a big reason for Atlanta's recent hot streak. Since last Sunday, McCann has eight hits in 23 at-bats, including four home runs. Since June 18, he has seven of his 11 home runs on the season. McCann hit .238 in June, but has started July at a .348 clip.

"That's baseball," McCann said. "No one can perfect this game. One day you can feel terrible at the plate and not see one pitch, and another day you see the ball really, really good. It's hard to play this game."

Atlanta used a first-inning error by Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, a former Brave, to take a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Chipper Jones hit a slow roller to LaRoche, who booted it. LaRoche probably would have had time to retrieve the ball, but he thought it was in his glove and he started running to first. By the time he realized the glove was empty, Jones had already reached safely.

Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell added to the trouble by issuing a five-pitch walk to Andruw Jones, and McCann hit a 1-0 pitch just inside the foul pole in right field for a three-run homer.

McCann -- the only Braves player named to the NL All-Star team, appeared as refreshed as the rest of his teammates, even though he didn't get the four days of rest they all enjoyed.

"Even if I had four days off to do nothing, it would have been nice, too," McCann said. "I've been banged up a little bit. To get the experience to go to the All-Star Game, you're around superstars and you get to sit back and take it all in."

The three runs were more than enough for Hudson, and Atlanta's bats were probably the reason he didn't get to try for the Braves' first complete-game shutout of the season.

Hudson showed that, if John Smoltz is forced to miss an extended amount of time with right shoulder inflammation, he can handle the role of No. 1 starter. Smoltz is currently on the disabled list, but hopes to return by Wednesday.

A double play in the first inning was sandwiched between two singles. From then on, Hudson was dominant. He didn't allow more than one hit in any other inning, and only three runners reached scoring position.

Hudson's only troublesome inning was the seventh, when he allowed a one-out double by Xavier Nady, followed by a walk to Jose Bautista. But Hudson and the Braves led, 9-0, at the time, so pressure was at a minimum. Still, Hudson escaped the threat without allowing a run before giving way to a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh.

"For a pitcher, to get three [runs] early is really big," Hudson said. "You can go out there and try to set the tone early."

The lead grew in the sixth, when Andruw Jones led off with his 16th homer of the season, and third of the month. McCann followed with a solo homer of his own, and the rout was on. The Braves collected five more hits in the inning -- all singles -- and sent 11 batters to the plate while scoring six runs. Edgar Renteria's two-run single up the middle capped the scoring, and Pittsburgh needed three pitchers to escape the inning.

Snell was chased after allowing four straight hits in the sixth. After allowing three runs in the first, he labored through the next four innings, but the Braves seemed primed for a breakout because their patient approach at the plate wore down Snell and elevated his pitch count. He left after throwing 94 pitches in five-plus innings.

"That's what you've got to do to starting pitchers, is make them work and not just go up and swing at the first pitch," McCann said.

The lopsided score prevented manager Bobby Cox from sending Hudson out to attempt a complete game, and new addition Jose Ascanio allowed a run on three hits in the ninth.

The only negative news for the Braves in their first game after the break was that Andruw Jones was forced to leave after his homer in the sixth because of a mildly strained right quadriceps. The injury, however, was not deemed serious, and Jones will likely try to play Saturday.

"It's a great start for the second half," Cox said. "Huddy was pretty much in complete control tonight, and we certainly got a lot of help from the hitters."

Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.