No Andrew McCutchen? No Neil Walker? No problem.
For one night anyway.
The Pirates marched on without several marquee players to beat the Miami Marlins, 7-3, Wednesday night at PNC Park, scoring four first-inning runs and adding three in the seventh.
Jeff Locke gave up three early runs, but settled in to retire 13 consecutive batters, providing what may have been his best start this season. He completed seven innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs. He struck out seven and locked things down after yielding a two-run homer to Christian Yelich in the second.
“I think after I settled down a little bit and started getting more control I think I said the same thing to [pitching coach Ray Searage],” Locke said. “I think I learned more and felt more comfortable with [Wednesday night’s] start than any other one all season just because we were able to limit the damage after they scored and give the team a little cushion.”
The Pirates held a slim, 4-3 lead before coming alive again at the plate.
Russell Martin fell behind in the count before delivering an RBI single to score Josh Harrison, then Gaby Sanchez drove in two more runs with a pinch-hit double to extend the lead to 7-3.
“Guys hit the ball as pitched,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Guys had some good looks and capitalized on the two walks [in the first inning]. Later on, Russ sparked us and then Gaby was able to stay in the count and stay on the pitch and drive it over [Giancarlo] Stanton’s head, which played well and helps his confidence moving forward as well.”
Before the game, Hurdle quoted former football coach Lou Holtz in reference to how the club would deal with the absence of center fielder McCutchen (fractured rib), second baseman Walker (lower back) and third baseman Pedro Alvarez (bereavement leave).
“Don’t tell people your problems. Eighty percent don’t care, the other 20 percent are happy you’re having ’em,” he said, quoting Holtz.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to put nine on the field, you’ve got to go play. Nobody’s gonna care. We’ll find a way to compete. Find a way to win. There’s no excuses.”
The Pirates took advantage of a shaky start by Miami right-hander Tom Koehler, who loaded the bases with a double and two walks in the first.
Ike Davis hit a ground-rule double to left driving in two, and the Pirates padded their lead with an RBI groundout by Travis Snider and an RBI single by Jordy Mercer that made it 4-1.
“It just happened that he walked a couple, and we had some really good at-bats and took advantage of what was going on,” Davis said. “We weren’t chasing. Were making him throw strikes, and he struggled with command the first inning. After that, you saw what he did once he found it.”
The cushion was needed when Yelich’s homer reduced the lead to 4-3.
Locke took control at that point, retiring the Marlins in order in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.
The Marlins took the lead with three first-inning singles producing a run before Locke wriggled out of the jam.
With two outs and runners on the corners, Marcell Ozuna got ahead in the count, 3-0, before Locke worked it full with two changeups. Ozuna then hit a fly ball to right to end the inning.
Locke was charged before the game with improving upon his most recent starts. He had given up a total of 10 earned runs in his past two starts which turned into losses at Colorado and Arizona.
“He’s just persistent. He’s stubborn with his confidence and knew he could find a slot and stay with it,” Hurdle said. “Russell kept him in a good place. He ran the table, 13 straight to go out in the seventh. As well as he’s pitched all year from the end of the third to the seventh. Good command with his fastball. In when he wanted to get it, some two-seamers, changeup played again, the curveball came into play. All his pitches were working.”
Locke agreed that it was one of his best starts, simply because of how he eventually settled in.
“I would categorize it up there, just because we gave the runs up early, and anything can happen when you do that. It’s easy to let things snowball,” he said. “Especially, when you get some runs from the offense, then give them right back.”
Jenn Menendez email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez First Published August 6, 2014 12:00 AM