PITTSBURGH — Chipper Jones was concerned when saw Brooks Conrad take to the on-deck circle in the seventh inning.
“I was like, ’That’s a mistake,”’ the 19-year Atlanta Braves veteran said. “’We need to keep him for later.”’
Conrad came through once again after manager Fredi Gonzalez waited for a bigger stage to insert him into the game.
Conrad hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the 11th inning and Atlanta topped the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 on Wednesday.
The homer, into a sliver of seats in right-center with pinch-runner Wilkin Ramirez on first and one out, was Conrad’s fifth career pinch-hit homer.
“He came up in the perfect spot and did what we all know he can,” Jones said.
Eric Hinske also had a solo homer for the Braves, who have won three of four and got a strong outing from rookie Mike Minor in a spot start for Tim Hudson.
Steve Pearce homered for the first time in 20 months and went 3 for 5 with two RBIs for Pittsburgh, which has lost three straight.
Five of Conrad’s 11 career home runs have been on pinch hits, including three — two of them grand slams — last season. He had a walk-off single against St. Louis on May 1, and his only hit since then drove in the tying run with him scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning May 18.
“It’s just so much fun, especially in the pinch-hit role, getting up there with the game on the line and you’ve got a chance to drive in the winning run for your team,” Conrad said.
Before Conrad hit a 1-2 pitch from Jeff Karstens (3-3) for his first home run of the season, he had been hitting only .130 with one extra-base hit this season.
“He’s been squaring some balls up all year and he hasn’t had much to show for it,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “But man, that’s what he does. He gets big hits and drives in big runs and helps us win a lot of games.”
Minor allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings, Jonny Venters got Pearce to ground into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning and George Sherrill (1-0) pitched a perfect 10th for the Braves.
Craig Kimbrel retired the Pirates in order in the 11th for his 14th save.
Hinske, whose .370 batting average in May ranked second in the National League entering the game, gave Atlanta the lead in the sixth with his homer deep to right, his fifth of the season.
Pearce’s homer down the left-field line in the seventh off Eric O’Flaherty prevented Minor from getting his first win of the season.
Minor, recalled Tuesday night to start in place of Hudson (stiff back), was making his second start of the season. Minor, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2009, allowed seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
“The deeper he got into the game, the better he got, really, with his command,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s good to see.”
The start was Minor’s 10th in the majors and second this season. He allowed five runs and seven hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings April 6, but was ranked second in the Triple-A International League in strikeouts.
“I didn’t put as much pressure on myself this time,” Minor said.
“I knew I had the stuff; I was getting guys out in Triple-A and I’d done it before here last year.”
Pittsburgh’s James McDonald gave up hits to the first three batters of the game — including Jones’ RBI single that scored Jordan Schafer — but retired 11 of the next 12.
“You don’t want game to let the game get out of hand,” McDonald said. “It’s my job to compete and allow the team to stay in the game.”
McDonald, who hadn’t allowed a run in either of his previous two home starts, allowed two runs and six hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Twenty of the 32 runs McDonald has allowed this season have come via the home run.
After watching his team having not scored a run since Saturday, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle shuffled his lineup, dropping Andrew McCutchen from leadoff to No. 3 in the order, bumping Jose Tabata to leadoff and inserting Pearce into the No. 2 spot.
Pearce drove in Pittsburgh’s first run in 22 innings in the third with a single to left after Tabata had led off with a single and stole second.
But he didn’t come through when he could have ended the game in the ninth.
“I rolled over on a pitch,” he said. “It was frustrating. We were all set up to win the game and I did the last thing you’d want to do in that situation. The tough part is that I’d been swinging the bat well all day, but I couldn’t come through when I needed to the most.”
Notes: Atlanta has four pinch-hit home runs this season. ... Normally Pittsburgh’s fifth starter, Karstens was in the game because the Pirates pushed his next scheduled start back two days to Sunday. ... A day after 2B Dan Uggla was not in the Braves’ lineup for the first time this season, teammate OF Martin Prado did not start for the first time. Similar to Uggla the day before, Prado entered the game in the eighth inning. Prado struck out in the 10th. ... The struggling Uggla had a rough game, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, an error and being part of a miscommunication that was called an error on SS Alex Gonzalez in the ninth.