PITTSBURGH — Maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates were just waiting to get home, to get a chance to bang the ball around in their own ballpark. It worked.
David Freese and Francicso Cervelli hit home runs in the fifth inning as the Pirates found their offense Friday in their home opener, a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park.
The Pirates (1-2), who built a 5-1 lead and hung on, had 11 hits against five Braves pitchers. That came after they totaled 13 hits and three runs in their first two games (21 innings) against Boston.
“That’s what’s fun — just seeing the guys whack it around a little bit,” Freese said.
Ivan Nova (1-0) was strong in his season debut. He allowed one unearned run on six hits with four strikeouts over six innings. Tony Watson pitched the ninth for his first save, hitting a batter before getting two grounders and a fly out.
“It starts with Nova,” Freese said. “I played with a lot of professionals. You ask me, he’s a pro in this clubhouse. He showed it today. We helped out offensively and (Watson) shut the door. It was a good team win.”
It was also something of a breakout for Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh considered trading him during or after last season, when the former National League MVP dipped to .256 in hitting and struggled some in the outfield. He is back with the Pirates, now in right field instead of center, and went 3-for-4 against the Braves after being 0-for-9 in the two games at Boston.
“I’m ready to hit,” McCutchen said. “I got pitches to hit today and more times than not when I swung, I made contact. That’s the only difference. That’s the main reason I look more aggressive.”
Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz (0-1) gave up two runs on six hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings. Josh Collmenter (0-1), the third pitcher for the Braves (1-3), gave up both homers — two of the three hits he yielded in two innings.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the third. With one out, Starling Marte was hit by a pitch. Josh Bell and McCutchen followed with base hits, bringing Marte home.
“Andrew’s a good hitter,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Andrew was ready to hit in the box. He got some balls he thought he could barrel and he swung very aggressively. He worked in the zone aggressively. Good visuals at the plate. Good looks at pitches. Good day in the box for him, helped us.”
Nova escaped a jam in the fourth. After singles by Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp, Nova hit Nick Markakis to load the bases. He fell behind 3-0 on Brandon Phillips before getting him to ground into a full-count double play.
“I’m in that situation, I’m supposed to do my job,” said Phillips, a career .275 hitter who was one of the main cogs for Cincinnati the past 11 seasons. “That game was on me. I’ve got to do my job regardless, especially when there’s less than two outs. That’s something that I normally always do.”
Jordy Mercer singled to center with one out in the Pittsburgh fourth, advanced on Nova’s bunt and scored on Marte’s single to left for a 2-0 lead. The Pirates then loaded the bases, chasing Foltynewicz, but Eric O’Flaherty got Gregory Polanco to fly out to center.
“He left the ball out over the plate with Marte with two strikes for that two-out RBI,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of Foltynewicz. “It just kind of got away from him. He was missing a little bit.”
Freese greeted Collmenter with a homer to center to lead off the fifth for a 3-1 Pittsburgh lead and Cervelli followed with a blast to left to make it 4-1.
Marte’s two-out single to left drove in Cervelli for a 5-1 lead in the seventh.
In the eighth, Markakis’ one-out double to right drove in Freeman to close it to 5-2. That brought in Daniel Hudson, who gave up a two-run double to Phillips to make it 5-4 before getting Adonis Garcia to ground into a double play.
“I talked to my hitting coach. He told me what I was doing wrong. I fixed it on my last at-bat,” Phillips said. “But early on, small little things can really change the game, and at the beginning of the game I just put that game on my back. I’ve just got to pick my team up tomorrow. I should have done my job. I didn’t do my job.”
NOTES — LF Matt Kemp is the only player with a hit in each of Atlanta’s four games. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. However, he left the game for a pinch hitter in the sixth on a precautionary basis because of right hamstring tightness. … Pirates 3B David Freese took a line drive by Dansby Swanson in the chest in the eighth. He got medical attention and remained in the game at the time but left for a pinch hitter in bottom of the eighth. … Pittsburgh’s revamped rotation after a rainout Thursday in Boston has RHP Chad Kuhl facing Braves RHP R.A. Dickey on Saturday. Dickey originally was scheduled to pitch Friday but switched with RHP Mike Foltynewicz. … The game-time temperature was 37 degrees, with gusty winds and a light semi-frozen drizzle falling at times. The Pirates announced Friday they were going to try to get their home opener in despite poor weather. This weekend is Atlanta’s only trip to Pittsburgh. “It was not a good day for baseball, I’ll tell you that. I felt like we should have played some football, had some pads on,” Atlanta 2B Brandon Phillips said.