- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Brian Snitker’s first day on the job looked an awful lot like the final weeks of the man he replaced.

Tabbed to bring a fresh voice to the team that started - and ended - the day with the worst record in the majors, the interim Atlanta Braves manager found reason to be optimistic even after a 12-9 loss dropped his club to 9-29.

Despite falling behind by nine runs by the end of the second inning, the Braves collected a season-high 15 hits and forced the Pirates to bring out closer Mark Melancon for the ninth inning to nail down a victory that appeared a mere formality a few hours earlier.

“It was just kind of neat to watch how they just kept throwing up those at-bats and grinding out at-bats,” Snitker said. “Things happened, but we were a hit away again. I liked what I saw. I liked the energy in the dugout and everybody’s kind of just into the game. It was OK.”

Mallex Smith hit two homers for the Braves, playing hours after manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired after five-plus seasons with Atlanta languishing in last place in the NL East. Rookie Aaron Blair (0-3) failed to make it out of the second in the shortest start of his brief big league career.

“Pretty much every time they swung the bat they were hitting a mistake,” Blair said. “So it’s kind of tough to battle through that.”

Atlanta general manager John Coppolella refused to blame Gonzalez for the team’s current state but stressed the need for a change. Enter Snitker, a lifer in the organization whose nomadic journey over the last four decades has included five different stints managing one of the club’s minor league affiliates.

Thrust into a 125-game tryout for the permanent gig, Snitker told the Braves - several of whom he coached on their way to the majors - that he would need time to get a feel for things, including being introduced as a major league manager.

“It was a good feeling to know that the guys got your back and are happy you’re here,” Snitker said. “And I am. I’m glad to be around these guys; I like them. They’re good dudes and they’re fun to be around and I’m looking forward to the next four months.”

Blair is among the core the Braves hope to build around as they retool heading into 2017. The 23-year-old, a former first-round draft pick by Arizona acquired by Atlanta last year, was solid if not spectacular in his first four major league starts but struggled in his fifth.

The Pirates jumped on Blair for seven runs in the first inning, though two fielding errors did little to help him. Opposing pitcher Juan Nicasio chipped in an RBI-single during the barrage, an outburst that might have continued unabated if John Jaso wasn’t thrown out at home to end the inning.

Blair fared no better in the second, leaving after getting just one out and being charged with two more runs.

“He just was missing location,” Snitker said of Blair. “They didn’t take too long to make him pay for it. He’ll be fine.”

Gregory Polanco doubled three times for the Pirates. Jaso, Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli also had three hits each for Pittsburgh. Nicasio (4-3) survived five innings to pick up the win thanks in large part to the Pirates’ season-high 21 hits. Melancon worked the ninth for his 13th save and third in as many games.

FAMILIAR FACE

One of the reasons the Braves settled on Snikert is because of his familiarity with some of the prospects the club is trying to develop, including Smith, who had nothing but praise for his new boss.

“I think he’s an awesome guy,” Smith said. “I think Fredi is an awesome guy, too. Fredi didn’t do nothing but good things for me. But I like Snit, too. Spent more time with Snit; I think he’s wonderful. Just we will see as time goes on what we can do for him.”

UP NEXT

Braves: Julio Teheran (0-4, 3.17) looks for his first victory of the season on Wednesday. Atlanta is averaging just 2.12 runs per game when Teheran starts this season.

Pirates: Francisco Liriano (3-2, 4.99 ERA) will try to bounce back from a bumpy outing against the Cubs last weekend when he gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. Liriano is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts versus the Braves.


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