Pirates' bullpen bails out Sanchez in win over Braves

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

The Pirates' bullpen has been so good lately, it deserves a nickname. Closer Jason Grilli has it covered.

The Shark Tank.

“We've got a lot of sharks down there,” Grilli said, with a grin. “When sharks smell blood, they get excited. We're staying hungry. It's a good group of guys with a lot of firepower behind them.”

Sunday afternoon, it again was time to cue the theme music from “Jaws.” After another feeble start by Jonathan Sanchez, the bullpen clamped down and subdued the Atlanta Braves, 4-2.

Five relievers — Jeanmar Gomez, Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Grilli — combined to produce six scoreless innings.

Wilson (1-0) tossed 1 13 innings to get his first major league victory. With two outs and a runner on second in the seventh, Hughes fanned Chris Johnson. Grilli notched his seventh save.

“Everybody threw something in,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Everybody got big outs.”

In 66 23 innings this season, the bullpen has a 1.89 ERA — second-best in the National League behind the Braves (1.22). The Pirates are 9-0 when leading after six innings.

“We're ready whenever the phone rings,” said Wilson, who's gone more than one inning in each of his six outings. “What we're doing really well is picking each other up. We just want to keep it rolling.”

The Pirates (10-8) went 7-2 on the homestand, which included one rainout. They won three of four from Atlanta, which dropped a series for the first time this season.

“(We) ran into a pretty good team that pitches well,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We had plenty of opportunities; we just didn't get that big hit when we needed it.”

Over three starts, Sanchez has worked 11 13 innings and has yielded 14 runs, 18 hits and eight walks. How bad has it been? By giving up two runs in three innings Sunday, Sanchez actually lowered his ERA by nearly two points to 11.12.

After the game, Hurdle said “there have been discussions” about removing Sanchez from the rotation and possibly giving Gomez a chance to start.

Before the game, Hurdle admitted he avoided using Gomez on Friday and Saturday due to the possibility Sanchez might bail out early on Sunday. “It's all hands on deck,” Hurdle said.

That's exactly how it turned out.

After 74 pitches, Sanchez was through. Hurdle didn't even wait to use a pinch-hitter. Gomez took over to start the fourth and batted in the bottom of the inning.

Gomez wound up working 2 13 innings. Although he also had his problems — Gomez allowed five baserunners — the Braves didn't score.

The only relievers who didn't get into the game for the Pirates were newcomer Vin Mazzaro (who worked Thursday and Friday) and setup man Mark Melancon (who had pitched in three of the previous four games). Watson handled the setup duties in the eighth.

“Everybody's pulling for each other,” Watson said. “Whoever goes through that door (onto the field), we all want the best for him. Today was a perfect example.”

The Pirates tied the score, 2-2, in the second against righty Kris Medlen (1-2). Pedro Alvarez singled, Russell Martin hit an RBI double, and Clint Barmes lined a run-scoring single to right field. It was the first RBI of the season and the 800th career hit by Barmes, who's in his 11th season in the majors.

“Every one of them is meaningful to me,” Barmes said. “At this point, I'm still showing up and throwing a uniform on, so I haven't stopped to think about it too much. It's always exciting to hit a milestone at whatever point it is.”

The go-ahead run was manufactured in the sixth. Neil Walker singled. Alvarez smacked a fly ball to deep left field, and Justin Upton made a leaping catch. Walker moved to second on the flyout and went to third on Martin's grounder. Barmes hit a creeper toward shortstop and legged out an RBI single.

In the seventh, Travis Snider singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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