Gene Collier: Pirates pitchers all clicking at right time

Even on days when he isn't hitting the baseball beyond the ballpark's farthest parameters, Ike Davis is making inspired, even ingenious plays in a Pirates winning streak that could reach unprecedented lengths this very afternoon.

The latest reason your eyes like Ike isn't one he's terribly proud of, perhaps, but when Cincinnati's Zack Cozart skied an 0-1 pitch from Justin Wilson into that difficult area behind first, where the right fielder and the second baseman and the first baseman must converge under a descending projectile, Ike got closest and let it fall on the grass right in the middle of a seventh-inning brushfire.

On a day when you couldn't find a parking spot on the North Side, that baseball sure did.

Davis was awarded a tough error for his efforts, but the result was that Devin Mesoraco raced home from second on the play, which meant a very bad thing for the Cincinnati Reds: They were suddenly in a one-run ballgame, trailing the Pirates at that moment, 3-2, and nobody, ladies and gentlemen, has been more pathetic in one-run baseball games this summer than the affable Ohioans.

They're now 19-33 in those games.

Almost on cue, the next seven Reds went down meekly in the face of more of the withering pitching the Pirates have run out there from one end of this homestand to the other.

"Ah, it was a hit," Wilson said about Davis' error. "You just get back on the mound and go. You just get the next guy and try to preserve the lead for Vance [Worley]."

Wilson was little less than scary Saturday. He struck out Jay Bruce on three pitches, watched Cozart's popup fall in right, then took all of three pitches to whiff Skip Schumaker.

He threw eight strikes, no balls, and got Worley's game to Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, who have been untouchable.

"My confidence never left me, 100 percent never left me," said Wilson, who has been scored on only once in his past 11 appearances. "Throughout the season I've had my ups and downs, just basically went through some adversity. I went through some last season [his rookie year] but not nearly as much as this year. You just don't know sometimes. Sometimes when they don't hit it on the barrel, it becomes a hit and sometimes when they do, you hope they line out. You just keep moving forward, one pitch at a time."

This year's Pirates might never have put a week of quality pitches together like the one in progress. The starters have allowed only five earned runs in their past 372/3 innings, an ERA of 1.19.

I stopped by to see pitching coach Ray Searage Saturday evening just because I hadn't seen him visit the pitcher's mound all week.

He actually couldn't remember the last time he was out there.

"Well, not the last three games," he said. "Was it Tuesday? I can't remember. It's a good thing. When you don't see me, it's very good."

Tuesday, Gerrit Cole took a no-hitter into the sixth inning; Wednesday, Jeff Locke beat the Cardinals, 3-1; Friday, Edinson Volquez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and the Reds had no hits Saturday until Todd Frazier homered in the fourth inning. That one went about 420 feet; their second hit went about 42 feet, a bunt by Billy Hamilton (he was promptly thrown out trying to steal by Russell Martin), and their third and final hit came with one out in the seventh inning.

"Starters are setting everything up," said Clint Hurdle. "The depth into games, the efficiency of their pitches. It makes everything work better."

There's nothing terribly mysterious about the methodology involved, according to Searage, but the man who keeps converting reclamation projects like Volquez and Worley and today's starter, Francisco Liriano, into key figures in pennant races said he has noticed an important development.

"Right now they're starting to get to know a lot about the hitters and themselves," Searage said about something that has been developing between starts. "I usually have all the starters come down to the bullpen when one of them is throwing a [bullpen session]. The other four are all there watching and I encourage them to talk about each other and to give each other pointers. They sit there and talk about what they've done when it's over and they encourage each other. We started doing that in May, and I'm going to do it all the time from now on.

"And the X factor back there is [catcher] Russell Martin. He's priceless."

So here we are, the fifth time this season the Pirates have won four in a row. They've never won five.

Five would be pivotal. Six, eight, 10; that would be priceless.

Gene Collier:

First Published August 30, 2014 10:39 PM

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