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PIT@ATL: Francisco brings home Heyward in the sixth

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez felt Randall Delgado passed another test on the learning curve last week, when he encountered a rough second inning and then pitched into the sixth in Arizona. But just 11 starts into his career, Delgado still has plenty to prove.

Instead of feasting on a Pittsburgh offense that has been the game's worst entering Saturday, Delgado labored through 4 1/3 innings at Turner Field and allowed the Pirates to build a lead they would preserve on the way to claiming a 4-2 win over the Braves.

"He's a quick learner," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He wants to learn and pitch in the big leagues. He'll be fine."

Delgado was making his first start since being shifted to the rotation spot previously occupied by Jair Jurrjens, who was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett earlier this week.  Unfortunately for the Braves, the 22-year-old pitcher did not prove much more effective than Jurrjens had been. Delgado allowed the Pirates four earned runs and eight hits in a season-short 4 1/3 innings.

This outing was actually less encouraging than the one he had made six days earlier, when he had allowed five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the D-backs. Each of those five runs had scored with two outs in the second inning.

"Young pitchers have a tendency to run away from the bat a little bit and get themselves in some trouble," Gonzalez said. "But the little bit I know about him from last year and this year, he's going to be OK. He's going to use these last two outings as an experience and builder."

Delgado's struggles were a welcome sight for Pirates starter Erik Bedard, who had seen his offense total three runs over his first four starts. Pittsburgh matched that by the second inning, and the left-hander showed his appreciation by limiting the Braves to one run and five hits over five innings.

"Bedard kind of kept us off-balance," said Braves shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who accounted for two of Atlanta's eight hits. "He mixed all of his pitches up well and hit his spots."

Delgado allowed a leadoff single to Alex Presley and issued two walks in a 22-pitch first that included a sacrifice fly by Garrett Jones. But after minimizing damage to one run in that frame, Delgado allowed three hits, including an RBI double by Presley, in a two-run second inning.

"I'm just trying to be the same," Delgado said. "I'm trying to keep the right mechanics and keep the ball down. But I couldn't control that today."

Looking more like the club that had totaled 42 runs in its previous 19 games, the Pirates squandered a bases-loaded threat in the third inning and went down in order in the fourth.

But back-to-back one-out doubles in the fifth inning doomed Delgado, who had lasted at least five innings in each of his 10 previous starts dating back to a four-inning effort in his June 17 Major League debut. As he has struggled to gain confidence in his curveball, he has primarily attempted to find success against big league hitters with just a fastball and changeup.

"Up here, you've got to throw offspeed more often than fastballs to get ahead," Braves outfielder Jason Heyward said. "From what I've seen from playing with Randall, his best pitch is his fastball. When he's not able to go up there and say let me get this over and then go with offspeed, it's going to take some adjustments."

The Braves produced at least one hit in four of the five innings completed by Bedard. But the only run during this span came in the third inning, when Martin Prado doubled and scored on Dan Uggla's two-out single.

These two Braves would not be as productive after the bottom of the fifth inning began with a four-pitch walk to Livan Hernandez and a Michael Bourn single. Prado quieted the threat with a weak pop fly caught in front of the first-base dugout. Instead of walking the right-handed Uggla with a base open and Heyward, a left-handed hitter, on deck, Bedard took the aggressive route and retired the veteran second baseman with a four-pitch strikeout.

Prado's frustrations were extended in the seventh inning when he followed Bourn's leadoff single with a double-play groundout.  This was one of the many opportunities squandered by the Braves, who struck out 14 times and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"We battled," Heyward said. "That's all we could do is battle and put ourselves in position to win a big game and get a big hit. But it's not going to happen all of the time." Comments