ST. LOUIS -- A brutal schedule was supposed to make April the toughest month of the season for the Pirates.
That doesn't even take into account some on-field issues that should have slowed the Pirates even more -- a prolonged cold stretch for star Andrew McCutchen, a trio of injuries to would-be starting pitchers and an overtaxed bullpen forced to pitch more innings than desired.
But instead of failing, the Pirates are in first place.
With a 9-0 victory Sunday, the Pirates (15-10) tied a club record for the most wins in April with 15. And they have two more games to play before the calendar turns to May. All but three of their games this month came against teams that finished .500 or better in 2012.
Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
LHP Wandy Rodriguez (2-0, 1.66 ERA) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 4.97).
- Key matchup:
Rodriguez vs. Ryan Braun, who is 14 for 39 (.359) with 4 home runs, 5 doubles, 6 walks and 8 RBIs against Rodriguez.
- Hidden stat:
Rodriguez has a 5.88 ERA in his career at Miller Park, his highest at any National League Central Division stadium.
"It says a lot for who we've got in the clubhouse," shortstop Clint Barmes said. "No matter who's getting days off, no matter who goes down or whatever it is, we've got depth at every position."
They won Sunday in part because of a dazzling pitching performance from Jeff Locke, one of the last players to make the roster out of spring training.
Locke (3-1) pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out three batters in the longest outing of his major league career. He has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.83.
After a less-than-stellar start to the season -- he went 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in his first three outings and only once pitched into the sixth inning -- Locke said he did not change his approach to hitters.
"Something had to change, though," he said. "I was falling behind hitters earlier in the season. I'm just getting ahead of guys, letting them put it in play somewhere and let the defense work."
His command propelled him Sunday, notably his ability to throw the ball on the inner half of the zone for strikes.
The shutout victory was the fifth of the season for the Pirates, tied for the most in the National League with the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants .
This three-game series in St. Louis was rather emblematic of the month as a whole. The Cardinals (14-10) were a playoff team in 2012, entered the series in first place in the National League Central and were riding a three-game winning streak.
On paper, the Pirates should not have left St. Louis with a series win. Starting second baseman Neil Walker and starting right fielder Travis Snider missed two games with injuries. And an already tired bullpen had to eat a lot of innings when Jonathan Sanchez was ejected after failing to record an out in the first inning Friday.
They thumped the Cardinals Sunday without Walker, Snider, Barmes and McCutchen in the starting lineup -- the latter two getting scheduled days off -- and took two of three.
"It just helps us believe we have the team we think we have," said catcher Russell Martin, who hit two home runs.
Martin homered in the second and ninth for his seventh career multi-home run game. He also hit the tying home run Saturday and has a team-leading five on the season, all coming after April 18.
The win also gave manager Clint Hurdle his 700th career victory, 11th most among active managers. After the game, the team toasted Hurdle's accomplishment in the clubhouse.
"That means you're gifted and blessed with an opportunity to do this for a while," Hurdle said. "But you don't talk about the other number because the other number's bigger than 700."
Hurdle has 808 career losses.
St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, who's already garnering attention as a candidate for NL rookie of the year, took his second loss of the season, both at the hands of the Pirates.
Miller (3-2) allowed three earned runs on seven hits in 52/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked three. His ERA this season is 2.05, but without his two starts against the Pirates it would be 0.95.
The Pirates extended their lead in the sixth with John McDonald's first RBI of the season. With Brandon Inge on first, McDonald hit a fly ball to shallow right field. Matt Holliday dived for the ball, which fell short of his glove as Inge scampered around the bases.
David Freese's relay throw was high and Inge slid under Yadier Molina's tag to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
Jose Tabata hit his first home run of the season in the fifth, and Garrett Jones hit his second of the year in the seventh. Jones finished 3 for 4 with a double and two runs.
A five-run ninth put the game out of reach.mobilehome - homepage - breaking - pirates
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published April 28, 2013 9:30 PM