Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) blows a bubble as he waits for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Braves fell to Pittsburgh, 3-1, on Sunday.
PITTSBURGH -- James McDonald followed one of the worst starts of his career with one of his best.
The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander overpowered the Atlanta Braves for six innings on Saturday night and Gaby Sanchez capped a three-run sixth inning with a two-run homer in a 3-1 victory at PNC Park.
McDonald (2-2) had nine strikeouts and allowed only one run and two hits to hand the Braves (13-4), who have the best record in the major leagues, consecutive losses for the first time this season.
Five days earlier, McDonald was ripped for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in a loss to St. Louis. That led to speculation that McDonald’s grip on a spot in the Pirates’ rotation might be tenuous, especially with starters Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton currently on minor-league injury assignments.
Paul Maholm (3-1) had his streak of 25 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season end when the Pirates scored three times in the sixth.
Starling Marte drew a leadoff walk, moved up on Jose Tabata’s bunt and scored on Andrew McCutcheon’s double to right field.
Though it was Andrew McCutchen bobblehead doll night, it was Sanchez who delivered the big blow when he followed by hitting his first home run of the season to dead center field. That put the Pirates up 3-1.
McCutchen and Sanchez each had two hits and Jason Grilli pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
The Braves scored their run in the second when McDonald issued three of his four walks, including one with the bases loaded to Andrelton Simmons with one out. McDonald escaped further trouble by striking out Maholm and B.J. Upton.
Maholm struck out the side in the first as he set down B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton in order.
Chris Johnson had two of Atlanta’s four hits.
NOTES: Braves second baseman Dan Uggla left the game in the middle of the fourth with a strained left calf. He apparently was injured while grounding out to shortstop in the top of the inning. … Atlanta infielder Blake DeWitt was placed on the 15-day disabled list before the game with a lower back strain. Right-handed reliever David Carpenter was recalled from Class AAA Gwinnett, though he had losses in two of his last three appearances and a blown save in the third. The Braves wanted a reliever who could pitch multiple innings after using the bullpen for a combined nine innings in the previous two games at Pittsburgh and with a three-game series at Colorado starting on Monday. … Pirates catcher Russell Martin made his ninth career start at third on Saturday night and first since 2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Michael McKenry caught and third baseman Pedro Alvarez was on the bench as manager Clint Hurdle wanted to load the lineup with right-handed hitters against Maholm. … Kris Medlen (1-1, 1.42) will start for the Braves against left-hander Jonathan Sanchez (0-2, 12.96) on Sunday in the finale of the four-game series.