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Kris Johnson struggles as Pirates fall back into first-place tie

Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie Kris Johnson found out quickly that the second time around is much different than the first.

Johnson, who threw six very effective innings out of the bullpen during his major league debut on August 18, got the start for the Bucs on Sunday as the division-leading Pirates looked for the sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sep 1, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Kris Johnson (60) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for the Bucs, he didn’t give them much of a chance as the Pirates dropped the final game of the three-game set 7-2, dropping back to a first-place tie for the division lead.

Johnson (0-2) got the start in place of Jeff Locke, who was optioned to Double-A Altoona earlier in the week, but he experienced the same control issues that have plagued Locke the second half of the season.

The rookie lasted only two-plus innings in which he allowed five earned runs, seven hits, two walks and uncorked a pair of wild pitches.

Johnson put the Bucs behind the eight ball right off the bat when he allowed three first inning runs despite only allowing two hits in the inning as he walked a pair and had both of his wild pitches in the opening frame.

Allen Craig and Yadier Molina delivered back-to-back RBI singles and after a walk to David Freese, John Jay delivered a sacrifice fly to center to give the Cardinals a comfortable 3-0 lead.

Johnson had a pretty effective second inning before allowing three straight hits to start the third. After Freese doubled in a pair too make it 5-0, Johnson got the hook and was replaced by Jeanmar Gomez.

While the Cardinals were busy teeing off on Johnson, the red-hot Pirates bats were cooled off by Cardinals’ starter Joe Kelly. Kelly (7-3) gave Cardinals’ skipper Mike Matheny six strong innings of four-hit ball in which he allowed only one earned run while striking out five.

St. Louis tacked on a pair of runs in the sixth when Matt Holliday made it a 7-0 game with a two-run single off Justin Wilson before the Bucs finally got on the board in their half of the sixth with an RBI single off the bat of Marlon Byrd that plated Andrew McCutchen.

The Bucs added a run in the ninth when John Buck singled in Byrd, who doubled to lead off the inning.

Newly acquired first baseman Justin Morneau made his Pirates’ debut in the loss and went 1-for-3 with a walk, batting sixth in the order.

The Pirates will attempt to reclaim sole possession of their lead in the division when they travel to Milwaukee Monday night.  The red hot Charlie Morton (6-3, 3.14 ERA) is scheduled to take the hill for the Bucs and will be opposed by the Brewers Tyler Thornburg (1-0, 1.94).

First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. from Miller Park.

Box Score

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Topics: Joe Kelly, Justin Morneau, Kris Johnson, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals

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