ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Pirates coaching staff asked starting pitcher Edinson Volquez Monday night if he felt up to going back out for the eighth inning.
“I’m ready go to,” Volquez said, before joking, “I’m really fresh. I only threw 64 pitches last time.
Volquez recovered from a horrible start in his previous game to finish eight innings, Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run homer and the Pirates beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-1, at Tropicana Field. The Pirates won their third game in a row and fourth of their past five to even their record at 38-38. Volquez allowed one run on five hits.
His eight innings pitched represented his longest outing of the season and the most innings he has pitched in one game since he threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Houston Astros July 19, 2012, while pitching for the San Diego Padres.
“The curveball played, the changeup had good sink to it, but it all started with his fastball command,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Volquez (5-6) had allowed eight runs and six hits and three walks in 21⁄3 innings in his previous outing.
“Last time, I was kind of hurrying a little bit to the plate,” he said. “I talked to [pitching coach] Ray [Searage], and we watched the video and we saw it.”
Volquez said he didn’t change his routine between starts and credited his defense, which recorded 10 ground-ball outs and three inning-ending double plays.
“I was able to throw all fastballs down in the bottom of the strike zone,” he said.
Volquez allowed a run in the first but gave up only three hits after that, one a bunt single, and none in his final four innings.
“He just stayed focus and made pitches from that point on,” Hurdle said. “He didn’t back away, he pitched with confidence and he pitched with intent.”
Alvarez had not had an RBI since June 7. Since then, he had hit .196 with a .275 on-base percentage in 51 plate appearances.
“Sometimes, results aren’t indicative of how you may feel at the plate,” Alvarez said. “I feel like I’m in a good place and just going to continue to work.”
After Starling Marte had doubled and scored in the third, Alvarez came to the plate with runners on first and third. He hit a first-pitch fastball out to center field for his 12th homer this season.
“He’s an important part of our offense,” Hurdle said. “We need him to fire, we need him to drive in runs, and that was very good to see from him tonight.”
The outfield trio of Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen combined to steal four bases against Rays starter Alex Cobb and catcher Ryan Hanigan. Three of them led to runs.
The Rays began the game with the worst record in the majors, but they had won seven of their past 11 games after losing 14 out of 15, but Cobb worked his way into deep counts throughout his five innings and threw only 49 of 91 pitches for strikes. He allowed six runs, six hits and three walks.
“We’ve been in a good place as far as getting in the box and making pitchers work for a while now,” Hurdle said. “Every guy has stepped up his game to some degree. We’re looking for the ball in spots early and, when it’s not there, we’re taking. We’ve been more confident to hit with two strikes.”
Though Cobb did not walk a batter in the first, he threw 10 of his 21 pitches for strikes and the Pirates took advantage of offensive counts. Cobb hit Marte on the right shoulder as the Pirates left fielder squared to bunt. Marte then stole second and might have been able to score on McCutchen’s single up the middle, but he initially took a step back toward second and only reached third.
McCutchen stole second, and Ike Davis drove in Marte with a grounder. Russell Martin hit one right back at Cobb that ended up as an RBI infield single after it deflected off Cobb’s right knee.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 23, 2014 10:39 PM