Pirates, Cole slip past San Francisco Giants

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Consecutive lengthy outings from the starters corresponded with a series victory and aided the Pirates’ efforts to rebound from a poor second half of April.

Gerrit Cole provided the strong start in a series finale Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants, pitching eight innings in a 4-3 win at PNC Park.

The Pirates won the final two games of the series and have won four of their past six after a disastrous stretch in April. Before taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays on the weekend, the Pirates had lost 15 of their previous 19 games.

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“I think you saw us click on all cylinders so far this homestand,” Cole said. “That’s been nice to see. Getting good pitching at a time when we start hitting the ball is something we’ve been lacking.”

Cole (3-2) tied his career high with eight innings and allowed three runs on seven hits, striking out seven. The only Giants batter to do much against him was Brandon Belt, who homered in the first and hit a two-run double in the fifth. Cole retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in his final three innings.

Four of Cole’s seven strikeouts came with his fastball, which reached 98 mph in the eighth.

“I think it was just better location,” Cole said. “I got a couple strikeouts in, a couple strikeouts away. Just kind of changing two-seam, four-seam, giving them different looks, and then putting it on the corner.”

Gaby Sanchez pinch-hit for Cole in the eighth with a runner in scoring position. Manager Clint Hurdle said Cole, who had thrown 107 pitches, was coming out of the game regardless of the situation.

Cole’s outing followed an eight-inning effort Tuesday from Charlie Morton, further easing the stress on a bullpen that had worked hard in the previous few games. Mark Melancon recorded his second save, with help from a diving catch by center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

“It’s always a goal of yours to go as late as you can, but there’s no denying those guys needed a blow,” Cole said.

Ike Davis had three hits, Travis Snider went 2 for 3 with a triple and two RBIs, and Chris Stewart went 2 for 3.

“We’ve been hitting the ball well lately,” Davis said. “Obviously, the things that we weren’t doing earlier was getting those big hits when there were guys on base. Look at the last couple nights. We’ve been swinging the bat pretty well.”

The Pirates roughed up Giants starter Tim Lincecum in the first. He issued a four-pitch walk to Snider, who led off for the second time this season, then ran the count to 3-0 on Neil Walker before throwing his first strike. Snider ran on a 3-2 pitch to Walker and reached second on Walker’s groundout.

McCutchen singled, scoring Snider, and Hunter Pence’s throw was off line enough to let McCutchen reach second. Starling Marte drove him home with a double, and the Pirates led, 2-1.

Four consecutive singles led to two runs in the second. Snider’s two-run single did the damage after a wild pitch moved Stewart and Cole into scoring position. Hurdle said a “gut feeling” led to him to put Snider in the leadoff spot.

“I’ve hit in that spot earlier in my career for a month, month and a half,” Snider said. “Understanding the pace of the game, situations where if a guy’s not throwing you a strike, you’re not going to swing. You try not to put too much emphasis on being a leadoff hitter and more about getting a good pitch to hit, and, if he’s not going to give you a good pitch to hit, let the guys behind you do the work.”

The Pirates are off today before starting their final series of this homestand Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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