- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Clint Hurdle doesn’t get too worked up over Jung Ho Kang’s home runs. At the rate the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman is sending baseballs flying to the outer reaches of ballparks since his return from a broken leg on May 6, Hurdle kind of expects them.

Watching Kang in the field is another matter. Facing a near carbon copy of a play that brought his breakout rookie season to an end last fall on Wednesday night against Atlanta, Kang looked perfectly at ease.

While Kang’s towering shot to left in the ninth provided the only run in a 3-1 loss to the Braves, the highlight for Hurdle may have been watching Kang make the pivot at second base while turning a double play to end the first inning.

Swung over to shortstop as part of a defensive shift, Kang sprinted for second on Freddie Freeman’s grounder, took the throw from shortstop Jordy Mercer, touched the bag then smoothly tossed to first.

“You saw no hesitation,” Hurdle said. “A very athletic play. It gave everybody a shot in the arm.”

Kang didn’t practice the play during his lengthy rehab from his frightening collision at second with Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan last September, when Coghlan’s takeout slide ended with Kang writhing on the ground in agony, his leg fractured and his knee shredded. Yet Kang said he didn’t have time to think about the psychological importance of it all as he darted toward the bag seven months later.

“It was an urgent situation,” Kang said through translator H.K. Kim. “I was just trying to make a play.”

Kang later added his fifth home run since leaving the disabled list on May 6, though it wasn’t enough to keep the Braves from snapping Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak. The Pirates are taking measures to ease Kang back into an everyday role, limiting him to no more than three consecutive games at a time.

It’s a move Kang is OK with, though he added he feels good about the direction he’s trending.

“It feels good to hit a home run but it feels better especially when we win,” Kang said.

Pittsburgh’s momentum was slowed while facing Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (1-4), who scattered five hits in 7 2/3 shutout innings to end six weeks of frustration. A night after pounding out a season-high 21 hits in a 12-9 win, Pittsburgh never made it to third base with Teheran on the mound.

“He changed speeds so well,” Hurdle said. “He hit the locations he wanted to all night long. The last two nights we were swinging the bats pretty well, he kept it from out over the middle. He kept it down.”

The 25-year-old Teheran needed only 91 pitches to get through an offense that entered the day second in the majors in batting average (.282) and sixth in runs scored. He left with two outs in the seventh but Vizcaino got Andrew McCutchen to fly out to center to end the threat.

Atlanta improved to 10-29 with the win, still the worst record in the big leagues, but avoided the worst 39-game start in franchise history. Freeman delivered an RBI single in the third and Tyler Flowers hit his first home run with the Braves in the sixth.

Francisco Liriano (3-3) pitched seven strong innings after getting rocked in his previous start last week against the Cubs but the Pirates lost for the first time in Liriano’s last 14 starts at PNC Park.

Pittsburgh hadn’t lost a game Liriano started at home in 11 months. While he was much improved after the Cubs knocked him around for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings last Friday - striking out four and walking two - he received little help.

“We’re not going to score a lot of runs every day,” Liriano said. “We fight through today, battle through but they got the win.”

UP NEXT

Braves: Mike Foltynewicz (1-1, 2.89 ERA) makes his fourth start of the season when the series wraps up Thursday. The 24-year-old is coming off eight shutout innings against World Series champion Kansas City last Saturday.

Pirates: Jeff Locke (1-3, 5.45) goes for his first victory in nearly a month. The left-hander is 0-1 with a 5.89 ERA in May and was touched for six runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Cubs last weekend.


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