When the Braves left Southern California, they headed East, looking for a little offense after losing four of five and averaging just 2 runs per contest.

 

While the offense remained in a lull, the pitching staff did not disappoint, proving to be one of the league’s best in holding the Pirates to 2 runs in two games.

 

Jair Jurrjens lowered his ERA to a league leading 1.56 in the first of two in Steel City, striking out 4 and allowing 6 hits and 0 runs over 7 2/3 innings.

 

Mike Minor looked to follow suit in his second start at the MLB level, and got off to a solid start before exiting with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the 6th.

 

The young lefty struck out 6 and walked two, allowing 7 hits and 1 run before handing the ball over to the bullpen with a one run lead.

 

And the bullpen continued to show why it is rendered one of the league’s best, limiting the Pirates to two hits, both off Eric O’Flaherty in the 7th inning.

 

But of those two hits, one tied the game.

 

It was a solo shot off the bat of Steve Pearce that found the seats in the left field corner

 

The Braves had a chance to take the lead in the 8th after recent-callup Jordan Schaeffer dropped a bunt down and legged out an infield single, took second after Alex Gonzalez’s moved him up with agroundout and took third on a ball in the dirt.

 

But Schaeffer’s speed, which the Braves desperately were missing before his appearance Tuesday, still was not enough for the offense to break through.

 

After Brian McCann walked to bring up Eric Hinske, Hinske was tied up, striking out swinging and ending the threat. In his previous at bat, Hinske homered to give the Braves their 2-1 lead.

 

Both bullpens held the opposing batters in check until the top of the 11th, Brian McCann roped a single to right field, bringing up Brooks Conrad with a chance to put the Braves on top.

 

It was just over a year ago, May 20, 2010, that Conrad capped a huge 9th inning rally at Turner Field with his walk-off grand slam.

 

And Wednesday afternoon was no different.

 

Conrad took Jeff Karstens’ 1-2 offering and drove it out of the park, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.

 

The Braves needed three more outs to leave Pittsburgh with a few wins, and Craig Kimbrel did not disappoint.

 

The young closer needed just 10 pitches to retire the side and earn his 14th save in 18 chances, sending the Braves back to Atlanta with a 3-4 record on a road trip that did not start out the way anyone expected.

 

The Braves got on the board early, getting three straight hits, a Schaeffer double, a Gonzalez single and a run-scoring single from Chipper gave the Braves a 1-0 lead.

 

The Pirates tied it up in the 4th before Hinske put the Braves up with his solo shot.

 

In the first game, the struggling Dan Uggla was given a day off in hopes that a little rest might awaken a bat much needed in the Atlanta lineup.

 

In his place was Conrad, and the switch-hitting utility player filled his role perfectly, driving Gonzalez in with his sacrifice fly in the 2nd inning.

 

That was all JJ needed, as he took Marlins’ ace Josh Johnson’s place atop the ERA department and earning his 6th win of the season.

 

The offense gave JJ a little insurance, as Schaeffer walked and scored on Prado’s double to left, putting the Braves up 2-0.

 

With the road trip behind them, the Braves (28-23) have a day off before opening up a three-game set with the Reds, who are fresh off a two-game set with the Phillies.

 

The Reds took the first game of the set, putting the Braves just two games behind the division-leading Phillies. -

 

The second game had not begun when this was posted-

 

But for the Braves to have success against the Reds, they must continue to do what was successful in Pittsburgh and hope their bats awaken against a very potent Reds pitching staff, and not to mention a scary offense.

 

Keys to the series

  1. Limit the damage from the Reds offense
    1. The Reds have three hitters all hitting over .300, and Jay Bruce (.280) has 12 home runs, and their lineup can explode at any moment. The Braves pitching staff will have its hands tied, but this series will test their league leading 3.01 ERA.
  2. If the bats remain quiet, find a way to manufacture runs   
    1. With Schaeffer providing much needed speed in the lineup, the Braves have a guy who can spark the offense, even if it is in spurts. With the return home, it is hopeful the Braves bats re-awaken
  3. Finish May off strong
    1. After starting the month off 12-4, the Braves have cooled down and are now 15-8 with 5 games remaining before June begins. Friday’s game opens up a 6-game homestand, where the Braves are 12-3 at home in May and 14-10 so far.




Getting the start in the opener is Tommy Hanson.

 

Hanson, who drew a no decision in the Braves 5-4 win over the Angels in 11 innings Saturday, will look to notch his 6th win of the year.

 

Mike Leake gets the ball for the Reds. In his last three appearances, Leake (2-3; 5.70 ERA) has not thrown more than an inning of work. He threw 3 2/3 innings in his last start, a 10-4 loss to the Brewers, where he gave up 7 runs.

In Saturday’s middle game, former Red Sox teammates Derek Lowe and Bronson Arroyo will go head-to-head.

 

Lowe will be looked to get back on track after allowing 3 runs and taking the loss against the Angels Sunday. Lowe has not earned a winning decision since his May 5 outing against the Phillies, a 5-0 Braves win. Arroyo lasted just 2 2/3 innings Monday in Philadelphia, allowing 9 runs on 10 hits before his day was over.

In the finale and ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week, JJ will take the mound, looking to continue his strong start to 2011, as Johnny Cueto goes for the Reds. In his last outing, Cueto took a no decision, giving up 3 runs through 6 innings to the Phillies Tuesday night.