Bucs, Braves split; Van Benschoten sent down
Their run of consecutive innings without an error came to an end in Game 1 of their doubleheader with Atlanta, but the Pirates' winning streak remained intact.
Pitcher John Van Benschoten started the nightcap, and the Pirates' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt -- as did the 28-year-old right-hander's stay with the team.
Van Benschoten (0-2) was roughed up for seven runs in four-plus innings, as the Braves salvaged the finale of their four-game series, as well as a doubleheader split, with an 8-1 victory over the Pirates.
Benschoten, the Pirates' first round pick in the 2001 draft, has lost his last nine decisions, is 1-12 in his career and has not won since Sept 10, 2004.
"It was all right," Van Benschoten said. "I was successful early on, and I think I just kind of fell off in the fourth and fifth innings. But overall, I think I did all right."
After the game, Van Benschoten was returned to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he began the season 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA. In three relief appearances since being recalled from the minors on April 27, he allowed two earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, but after allowing six earned against the Braves, his earned run average ballooned to 9.39.
"I thought he threw the ball well, and obviously, anybody can work on the consistency of their location, but the first three innings, I thought he threw the ball outstanding," Pirates manager John Russell said. "I'd like him to be a little quicker to the plate with guys on base, but other than that, continue what he's doing."
The Pirates had won six consecutive games, including the first game of the twinbill. Freddy Sanchez hit a three-run double, and Adam LaRoche added insurance with his fourth home run of the season, a two-run shot that helped the Pirates gain a 5-0 victory over the Braves.
"Obviously (the winning streak) was a combination of ... getting guys going, getting guys, myself included, who weren't producing too much in the beginning to try and get going," Sanchez said. "We got some good at-bats from LaRoche and (Jason) Bay. We're a team that has to be working on all cylinders. We're not a team that can just get a few guys going at one time."
Zach Duke (2-2) continued to pitch well, as he delivered his third consecutive quality start. In those three outings, the 25-year-old southpaw has resembled the player that was selected the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year in 2004 and started his professional career 8-2 in 2005.
He has a 2-0 record in those three games, pitched 20 1/3 innings, allowed 18 hits, 10 walks and struck out seven. He allowed five earned runs and posted a 2.22 ERA.
He didn't have the precision control against the Braves that was evident in his two previous starts, but he was still able to get key outs when he needed them. Atlanta was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position against Duke, and despite allowing three runs and five walks in six innings, only one runner reached third base -- and that was on Sanchez's second-inning error.
Van Benschoten tied his career high with five strikeouts but was hit hard; Atlanta's offense knocked him around for nine hits.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of the nightcap. Doug Mientkiewicz doubled and scored when Nate McLouth's grounder to first was booted by Atlanta's Greg Norton.
Braves starter Tim Hudson (6-2) gave up one unearned run and three hits in seven innings.