PITTSBURGH (AP) - The reigning National League MVP is expected to be activated off the disabled list Tuesday. Just in time. His team is reeling.
Vance Worley allowed six first-inning runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates lost their season-high sixth consecutive game, 7-3 to the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
''We've just got to keep doing what we're doing,'' Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. ''We went through these tough stretches in April and early May and we've played really good baseball up until this last week. We're still the same team.''
Not without Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh is 5-9 since losing its team leader in home runs and RBIs and the NL leader in on-base percentage. The Pirates have fallen two games out of a wild card spot and six out of the NL Central lead.
McCutchen (left rib fracture) took live batting practice prior to the game and afterward said he was ''good to go.'' He has not played since Aug. 3.
Starling Marte went deep twice, and Walker added a homer that became the first to reach the Allegheny River beyond right field at PNC Park this season.
Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons started the game with the Braves' fifth set of back-to-back home runs this season, and it got worse from there for Vance Worley (5-3). Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird had run-scoring singles as Atlanta bolted to a 6-0 lead.
''I know we didn't score a whole lot the rest of the way,'' said Heyward, who had had three hits and a sacrifice fly. ''But still, that's a lot of pressure for a team to come back against.''
Worley managed to pitch six innings and was charged with five earned runs. He allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked two.
''After (the first inning), I figured it out,'' Worley said. ''It clicked, I was able to drive the ball down in the zone and get the results that I needed.''
The early outburst was enough for Ervin Santana (13-6), who allowed three solo homers among nine hits in 5 1-3 innings.
''I know I didn't have my stuff today, but for me it was one of my best games because I gave up three runs,'' said Santana, who improved to 8-1 over his past 10 starts.
Atlanta has won four straight, moving past Pittsburgh in the wild-card standings.
Braves: During a rehabilitation outing for Triple-A Gwinnett, RHP Shae Simmons (right shoulder strain) did not record an out and was charged with four runs. He walked two and allowed two hits while throwing 21 pitches.
Pirates: After taking live batting practice prior to the game, OF Andrew McCutchen (left rib fracture) said he expects to come off the DL on Tuesday. ... SS Jordy Mercer (right forearm tightness) was not in the lineup for the fourth consecutive game.
A FIRST AT FIRST
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez started at first base in his first career appearance at any spot other than third. Alvarez, whose 25 errors lead the majors, had seven put-outs. His first chance was an errant throw by second baseman Neil Walker that led to two runs being scored.
Because the Braves did not get into Pittsburgh until 3 a.m. Monday morning, manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to rest regulars B.J. Upton and Evan Gattis.
Heyward's homer was his third of the season to lead off a game and sixth of his career. According to STATS, Monday was the fifth time the Braves began a game with consecutive home runs.
Braves: Tuesday starter RHP Aaron Harang (9-7, 3.51 ERA) has 15 career wins against the Pirates.
Pirates: Despite having a 2.36 ERA over 42 innings in seven starts since coming off the DL, LHP Francisco Liriano (3-9, 3.78 ERA) has lost three of five decisions. He's lost his past two outings.