Pitchers, throw Austin Riley strikes at your own peril.

ExploreBraves take 3-of-4 from Pirates

In the latest act of the Braves’ third baseman’s career-best run, Riley homered twice, starting with smoking a ball 404 feet for a three-run homer in the first inning Sunday. The Braves didn’t trail the rest of the way, defeating the Pirates 7-1 to take three of four games in the series at Truist Park.

After losing the series opener Thursday, the Braves decimated the Pirates. They outscored Pittsburgh 33-3 over the past three games. Their run differential was -19 entering Friday. It’s now +11.

“It was (a timely series win),” manager Brian Snitker said. “It was tough series with the Mets (earlier in the homestand). We lost a tough one here the first game of the series. That was a gut punch, too. It was good to bounce back and win these three.”

Outfielder Ronald Acuna has rightfully generated the most publicity among Braves. But over the past month, there might not be a more productive player in the majors than Riley. A prized prospect who’s battled inconsistencies at the plate throughout his young career, it’s all suddenly clicked. Riley looks the part of an All-Star third baseman at the plate and in the field.

Braves 7, Pirates 1 (box score)

As the Braves’ offense finally seems to be rounding into form, there still isn’t a comparable performer to Riley. The slugger homered in his first two at-bats Sunday, bringing home each of the Braves’ first five runs. It was his second career multi-homer game. His first multi-homer game came Friday, earlier in the series. In his past seven games, Riley has 12 hits, 10 of which went for extra-bases. He has six homers and 11 RBIs.

“It’s very nice to finally tap into some power, drive the ball,” Riley said. “Being able to put some runs on the board for the team is very nice. Just the work we put in in the cage, the mechanical side, the mental side trying to figure that out, is definitely helping a lot.”

The run is comparable to when Riley first debuted. He hit .298 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in his first 30 games. Riley said he feels his recent production is more sustainable because he has a better understanding of planning for pitchers and how to counter opposing pitchers’ strategies.

Entering the afternoon, Riley’s .412 on-base percentage was second base in the National League. He has an eight-game hitting streak, one shy of tying his career high.

“He’s still a young guy trying to figure things out,” Snitker said. “I kept thinking last year, ‘You want to hang with him. You want to hang with him.’ Because I remember what he did in ‘19 when he came up and helped us win the division. You just know what the upside is with this guy. And he always plays defense. To these guys’ credit, they stay consistent with their defensive work and they always show up on the other side of the ball, which is awesome.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Braves starter Max Fried produced his fourth consecutive strong outing since returning from a hamstring injury. He pitched seven innings, his longest start of the season, and allowed one run on four hits. He only struck out two but generated plenty of soft contact. After a tough April, Fried has turned his season around and looks like the southpaw who had a 2.25 ERA as a budding ace for the Braves last season.

“I didn’t have my breaking stuff today, but my fastball was playing well enough, and the off-speed was there enough, to keep them off balance,” Fried said. “I know how good our defense is, so if I can just get the ball on the ground and have some weakly hit balls, then I know they’ll be able to make the play.”

Adding to the Braves’ sudden good fortune was shortstop Dansby Swanson, who belted a two-run homer. Swanson seems to be escaping a rut that had many questioning whether the team should consider other options at the position. The Pirates series was just what he needed: He had consecutive three-hit performances on Thursday and Friday. He went just 1-for-4 Saturday — which was still better than most of his recent showings — and capped the four-day stretch with his home run Sunday.

The Braves finished a stretch in which they played 19 games in 20 days. They have two off days this week, including Monday. They’ll travel to Boston to play a two-game series at Fenway Park beginning Tuesday. The Red Sox are 29-19, in first place in the American League East and tied for the best record in the AL.