The issues with the Pirates starting rotation reached the point Thursday where the front office took action. The inconsistency and poor performance required more than faith and coaching. With that situation in the background, Edinson Volquez took the mound and, at least momentarily, provided a start to restore order.
Volquez kept the Washington Nationals at bay in a 3-1 win at PNC Park. The Pirates capitalized on walks to score two runs and the bullpen again held the lead.
Josh Harrison scored the go-ahead run with some savvy baserunning, drove in an insurance run and prevented a sure hit with his second full-extension diving catch in the span of a week.
"It was a great game," Volquez said. "I feel like we needed that second win in a row."
Tony Watson loaded the bases in the eighth, but left the runners there, and Mark Melancon earned his eighth save with some help of a sliding catch by Andrew McCutchen with the tying run on base.
"I just read it and trusted my instincts," McCutchen said.
Volquez (2-4) gave up a home run for the fourth time in five starts and has now allowed nine in his past 272/3 innings. Thursday, though, that was the only run he allowed in six innings. He limited the Nationals to three hits and only walked two.
"Just keep the ball in the bottom of the strike zone," Volquez said of his focus between starts, before adding with a laugh, "Keep the ball in the ballpark."
The start followed bad outings from Francisco Liriano and the now-departed Wandy Rodriguez, who was designated for assignment Thursday, and was much needed: The rotation has struggled this season and the bullpen had to work 71/3 innings Wednesday night.
Volquez kept his walks under control for the second consecutive start after walking seven batters in 92/3 innings in the previous two-start span.
Nationals starter Blake Treinen (0-2) used his hard sinker to hold the Pirates to four hits in 52/3 innings, but issued four unintentional walks. Two of those walks turned into runs.
Treinen took the injured Gio Gonzalez's spot in the rotation and made his second start of the season. In his first start May 6, he allowed three runs, none of them earned, in five-plus innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Volquez walked Treinen to start the third inning, then followed by giving Denard Span a free pass, but he escaped the inning without giving up a run. Anthony Rendon grounded into a force out, Jayson Werth flied out and Wilson Ramos grounded out.
Treinen issued a two-out walk to Volquez in the bottom of the third that led to the Pirates' first run.
Harrison singled and Neil Walker walked to load the bases. Treinen's first pitch to McCutchen hit him, forcing in a run.
The lead lasted for two batters. Ian Desmond, leading off the fourth, jumped on a 2-0 fastball and hit his eighth home run of the season out to right-center field to tie the score, 1-1.
A smart play on the bases by Harrison helped give the Pirates the lead back in the fifth. After a leadoff walk, Harrison advanced to second base on Walker's fly ball out to the warning track in center field. That allowed Harrison to score on McCutchen's single up the middle, putting the Pirates ahead, 2-1.
"It was hit deep enough to where he could get back and tag up," McCutchen said. "It's something that we work on. He trusted his instincts, as well, getting back to the base and knowing that he could get there."
Harrison was not immediately available for comment after the game.
In the next inning, Harrison stole a hit from Ramos when he dived to catch Ramos' line drive into the gap in right-center.
"It's a flat-out great play," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Outstanding for a guy that doesn't have a great volume of time out there, but he's athletic."
■ Game: Pirates vs. Nationals.
■ When: 7:05 p.m.
■ TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 22, 2014 10:33 PM