Hurdle, Martin ejected in Pirates' loss to Braves
ATLANTA — Maybe the strike zone was a bit too tight Monday night.
Pirates catcher Russell Martin certainly thought so. When he spoke up about it in the fourth inning, he wound up watching the rest of the game on the clubhouse TV.
Right-hander A.J. Burnett probably felt he was being squeezed, too. After Martin's ejection, Burnett started seeking strikes over the heart of the plate.
They were strikes, all right — big, fat, juicy ones. The Atlanta Braves launched three of them over the outfield wall and blasted the Pirates, 7-2.
“A.J.'s command was a challenge tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And there were some questionable calls that kind of moved some counts on him.”
Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman each hit a two-run homer. It was the worst shelling of the season for Burnett (3-6), who had allowed only four home runs over his first 12 starts.
“It's a good swinging team,” Burnett said of the Braves. “You can't get behind them (in the count), especially when you're throwing cookies in there.”
It had been more than two years — a span of 67 starts — since Burnett allowed three homers in a game. While pitching for the New York Yankees on May 16, 2011, Burnett served up three long balls in a 6-5 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Burnett walked Freeman on four pitches to start the bottom of the fourth. McCann whacked a full-count fastball into the right-field seats to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.
After Chris Johnson doubled to left-center, Burnett settled down and got two outs. The first two sinkers to Kris Medlen were called balls by umpire Dan Iassogna; the second one seemed to catch the top of the strike zone.
Martin called time and took a step toward the pitcher's mound. When he paused and yelled an expletive, Iassogna immediately tossed him.
“I was frustrated, and he threw me out for that,” Martin said. “Apparently, that was enough to pull the trigger. I have my moments when I feel like I deserve to be thrown out. I have my temper tantrums every once in a while. But in a 2-1 game like that, when my pitcher's battling and I'm competing ... I didn't feel like it was a necessary move by the umpire.”
Martin said he didn't sense any tension between himself and Iassogna before the ejection.
“He's normally a guy I get along with,” Martin said. “I guess he was (upset) about something, and he over-reacted. If you know me, you know how I talk. I say the F-word often when I play. It's just the way I express myself. He didn't like it.”
Hurdle went out to argue and collected his third ejection of the year.
“I didn't go out there with the intent,” Hurdle said. “But for the catcher to get tossed walking away from the umpire ... that was disappointing. I didn't see the reason for Russell having to leave the game.”
Burnett eventually got Medlen to ground out. But the Braves began the fifth with a back-breaking sequence: single, homer, single, homer.
“The sinker in has been a big pitch for me,” Burnett said. “When you don't get that pitch, you can't keep throwing it, so you've got to make an adjustment.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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