Pirates’ bullpen tries to right the ship against Braves

No lead has been safe for the Pittsburgh Pirates as of late.

Pittsburgh has gone up by at least four in each of its past two games before ultimately losing — a fate it will try to avoid on Friday in the opener of a three-game set with the visiting Atlanta Braves.

After seeing a 5-0 lead evaporate Wednesday in a 9-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants, the Pirates couldn’t take advantage of 5-1 and 6-2 cushions on Thursday and ended up falling 7-6 in the rubber match of the three-game series.

Relievers have combined to surrender 12 runs (10 earned) across seven innings in those two losses, resulting in a 12.86 ERA.

“It’s a concern,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said following Thursday’s setback. “Our bullpen’s gotta be better. We have, what, a (5-0) lead yesterday (and a) 6-2 lead today? We have to be better. Our bullpen has to be better. We have to win games like that.”

Left-hander Bailey Falter (2-2, 3.53 ERA) has the chance to take some pressure off the Pirates’ bullpen in the opener.

Falter got the nod against the Chicago Cubs last Saturday, allowing just three hits across 7 2/3 scoreless innings. He did not factor into the decision, though, and Pittsburgh ended up losing, 1-0.

In three career starts against Atlanta, Falter is 0-1 with an 8.03 ERA.

The Braves have not yet officially named a starter, but they are expected to turn to right-hander Darius Vines (0-1, 4.66).

Vines has not pitched since April 21, when he took a loss against the Texas Rangers after being tagged for four runs and seven hits in five-plus innings.

Friday marks Vines’ second career appearance against the Pirates. He logged three innings of relief against them on Sept. 9, 2023, giving up one run and two hits.

Unlike Pittsburgh, Atlanta has had little to worry about when it comes to its pitching staff, as the Braves have outscored opponents 18-6 while winning three of their past four games.

That stretch includes a 3-0 victory over the Cubs on Thursday. Atlanta took two of three games from Chicago, and Braves reliever A.J. Minter is hoping the momentum gained from that series spills over into the back half of a six-game road trip.

“It was a big series for us,” Minter said. “I feel like this road trip could’ve gone two different ways. For us to get off on a good start is big for us. We’re still at a very good spot, as far as the season goes.

“You never want to let the division get away from us. For us to go out there and to win two out of three on the road, and (now we) go to Pittsburgh and hopefully win another series. It was a low-key big series for us.”

Atlanta catcher Chadwick Tromp had two hits on Thursday and is 6-for-13 (.462) during a four-game hitting streak.

The Braves and Pirates will be meeting for the first time this season. Atlanta went 4-3 vs. Pittsburgh in 2023.

–Field Level Media