PITTSBURGH -- When traffic got heavy, Jon Niese slowed down.
Niese pitched six effective innings to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to an 8-5 win over Atlanta Braves on Monday night while Matt Joyce had a home run among his three hits and drove in three runs, Gregory Polanco had three hits and three runs scored.
Niese (4-2) allowed two runs and five hits with six strikeouts and two walks. It was just the left-hander's third quality start in eight outings this season, though the Pirates are 6-2 in the games he has pitched, and he improved his career record against the Braves to 10-6.
The Braves put the leadoff hitter on base in each of the first four innings yet Niese was able to pitch through all that traffic on the bases without allowing a run. The Pirates led 6-0 before the Braves finally broke through in the sixth inning.
"I pitch fast but I just tried to slow myself down and I was able to make some big pitches when I needed to," Niese said.
Joyce stepped into the starting lineup and played right field as left fielder Starling Marte was placed on the paternity list before the game after his wife gave birth to a daughter in the morning. Polanco moved from right field to left to take Marte's spot.
Joyce connected for his fifth home run, a two-run shot deep into the right-field bleachers, off Alexi Ogando in the seventh inning to increase the Pirates' lead to 8-2.
It continued an amazing turnaround for Joyce, who is hitting .372 this season after hitting just .181 for the Los Angeles Angels a year ago. His five homers match his total from 2015.
Joyce worked with two hitting instructors in the offseason near his home in the Tampa, Fla., area and also played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
"It feels great to be able to have this type of success after the work in the offseason," Joyce said. "I didn't know which way my career was going to go. I'm extremely happy that I've bounced back to show I can still be a major league player."
Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 12th save in 13 opportunities.
David Freese had two of the 13 hits by the Pirates (20-17). Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison each drove in two runs.
The Braves lost for the ninth time in 11 games in falling to 9-28, the worst record in the major leagues.
Atlanta's runs came on a pair of homers, a two-run blast by Jeff Francoeur in the sixth off Niese that made it 6-2 and a three-run shot by Kelly Johnson in the eighth off Cory Luebke that cut the deficit to 8-5.
It was the first multi-homer game since opening day for the Braves, who have gone deep just 11 times in 37 games, easily the lowest figure in the major leagues. Francoeur and Johnson connected for the first time this season.
"It bothers your pride when you're into mid-May and the majority of us are looking at zero in the home run column," Johnson said. "Most home runs are circumstantial but you run into some over the course of the season. We have the power for it to happen and hopefully we'll start getting runs in bunches."
Johnson and Freddie Freeman had two hits each for the Braves.
Williams Perez (1-1) was tagged for six runs and nine hits in six innings. In his previous start, he held Philadelphia Phillies to one run and two hits in eight innings for the win last Wednesday.
"I felt like I had a little bit of bad luck," Perez said. "I felt like some balls were finding some holes and that hurt me a little bit."
The Pirates jumped on Perez for three runs in the first inning. The first scored on a wild pitch and the second came on a groundout by Cervelli before Joyce capped the frame with an RBI single.
A two-run third increased the lead to 5-0. Cervelli singled in a run and Harrison drove in a run on a ground out.
Harrison had another RBI in the fifth when he tripled into the right-field corner.
NOTES: OF Starling Marte was placed on the paternity list and INF/OF Alen Hanson was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. Hanson struck out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning in his major league at debut. ... Pirates 3B Jung Ho Kang was not in the lineup after starting all three games of the weekend series against the Cubs at Chicago. INF David Freese started at third. The Pirates are slowly working Kang back into action as he was activated from the disabled list May 6 after undergoing reconstructive left knee surgery last September. ... Braves RHP Shea Simmons pitched one scoreless inning Monday night as he began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett, striking out the side while allowing one hit and one walk. It was the first time Simmons had pitched since 2014 after missing all last season and the beginning of this one while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. ... Braves rookie RHP Aaron Blair (0-2, 4.05 ERA) is scheduled to face RHP Juan Nicasio (3-3, 4.34 ERA) on Tuesday night in the second game of the four-game series.