The lack of two offensive mainstays, one the reigning Most Valuable Player, generally does not coincide with a third consecutive victory that lifts a team further above .500 than it has been all season. With continued strong pitching, the Pirates made it work.
Vance Worley did the honors Friday night as the Pirates beat the San Diego Padres, 2-1, at PNC Park. They improved their record to 62-53, despite the continued absence of center fielder Andrew McCutchen and second baseman Neil Walker, and moved in to second place in the National League Central.
"We're all here to step up," Worley said. "It's a team game. If one guy goes down, it's up to somebody else to come in and step up. Once they come back, great. It's going to be an addition to the lineup."
Allowing one run in seven innings Friday, Worley lowered his ERA for his past four starts to 0.96. In 28 innings, he has walked five batters, struck out 17 and allowed 23 hits. Pirates starters are 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the past six games.
Worley yielded a hit and a run to the first batter he faced but no further scoring. His defense helped him out of a jam in the sixth, and he struck out the side in his final inning. His cut fastball played a large role in his success.
"I thought they were sitting more on my fastballs in to lefties and away from righties, so I decided to show them a little something different and keep them off balance," Worley said. "By the end of my outing, I was able to have that pitch back because they were too busy thinking about the other stuff."
Save for Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco, Ian Kennedy (8-10) successfully held the Pirates in check through six innings. But Harrison and Polanco combined for six hits, five off Kennedy, who allowed two runs, one earned, and seven hits.
Harrison went 3 for 3 with a walk and initiated a key defensive play despite hurting his left ankle and left hand in the fifth. He walked and took off for second, but the Padres pitched out.
"The throw was kind of in the baseline from the pitchout," Harrison said. "I know [shortstop Everth Cabrera] was going to get it. The way he transferred, my hand kind of went into his spike. I think it kind of took him off balance."
Cabrera rolled over Harrison's ankle. Harrison stayed down in pain for a few minutes before leaving the field, but he took the field on defense in the sixth.
"He's going to get a couple things looked at," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The next inning, Harrison defused a dangerous situation. Cabrera and Yangervis Solarte singled, and Seth Smith walked to load the bases with no outs. Jedd Gyorko grounded to third, and Harrison threw home to start a 5-2-3 double play. Yonder Alonso flied out to end the threat.
"It turned out to be a potential game-saving play," Hurdle said. "There's no telling where the inning goes if you're not able to get two outs on that ball. He's a very aggressive defender. That was the play to make."
The Pirates scored both their runs in the bottom of the first. Harrison missed a home run to right-center by about six inches, and his hit, which ricocheted off the yellow-padded top of the railing, resulted in a triple. Polanco's single tied the score.
Polanco stole second and advanced to third when Rene Rivera's throw bounced into center. Ike Davis' sacrifice fly scored Polanco and gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
That was enough for the Pirates. After Worley left, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon each pitched a scoreless inning and Melancon earned a career-high 21st save.
Being without McCutchen and Walker is not ideal, but, for now, the Pirates are making it work.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published August 8, 2014 9:55 PM