Bob Smizik: Polanco, Locke light up Pirates

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The season is turning brighter for the Pirates; let us count the ways.

• First, the overall view: With their 8-6, 13-inning win over Miami last night, the Pirates are 33-34, which might not sound like much unless you know they were 12-20 on May 5. Which means they are 21-14 over their past 35 games, a .600 winning percentage. If the Pirates continue at such a pace over their final 95 games, they will finish with 90 wins. With a light schedule for the next three weeks, the Pirates have a chance to improve on their recent strong play, which includes nine wins in the past 14 games.

• There were many stories to this game but none larger than Gregory Polanco, the young phenom who made his MLB debut Tuesday. He was looking good, but nothing extraordinary in his first three games. He achieved extraordinary last night with five hits, including a two-run homer in the 13th, which was the game-winner. Aside from dropping a fly ball Tuesday, there’s been nothing not to like about Polanco. He does not appear to be at all overwhelmed by his circumstances. His running and throwing appear to be well above average and his bat broke out in a big way last night. In four games, he has a homer, three RBIs, a .381 average and a .905 OPS.

• Despite the performance of Polanco, no aspect of the victory was more significant than the work of Jeff Locke, who -- it appears -- is back. Locke was the Pirates best pitcher in the first half of last season and their worst pitcher in the second half. In his third Pirates start of this season, most of which has been spent at Indianapolis, he pitched eight innings and allowed two runs on seven hits. He has pitched 21 1/3 innings for the Pirates and 19 of them have been spectacular -- three earned runs. Locke has emphatically answered the biggest question surrounding him -- his control. For his MLB season, he has 17 strikeouts and one walk. Amazingly, in his final three Class AAA starts, he walked 12 and struck out 10.

• Manager Clint Hurdle will be criticized, and understandably so, for removing Locke after eight innings. In Hurdle’s behalf, Locke had thrown 101 pitches and never had thrown more than 108 for the Pirates. Had he finished the game, his pitch count almost certainly would have been beyond 108.

• Hurdle’s bullpen strategy: I had no problem starting the ninth with Justin Wilson. He did the same thing the night before with Jared Hughes and it worked out fine. Hurdle was attempting to rest the back end of his bullpen in a non-save situation. Unfortunately, Justin Wilson stunk and, worse, so did Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon. Wilson walked two in one-third of an inning. Grilli walked three in one-third of an inning. Melancon walked home the tying run on a pitch to Casey McGehee that wasn’t even close. It happens. The strategy was fine. The execution was not.

• Hurdle’s decision to bring on Jeanmar Gomez to pitch the 10th inning in a tie game was the right one. His options were: Gomez, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Stolmy Pimentel. Watson was being saved to close, if the Pirates took a lead. Hughes pitched in three of the previous four games. Gomez was a better option than Pimentel. The strategy was smashingly successful. Gomez allowed one hit and one walk in four innings while striking out four.

• Since being returned to the starting lineup Sunday, Starling Marte is 12-for-26 (.462). In his past five games, he is 12-for-23 (.522), with three doubles and a home run. In his 27 plate appearances since Sunday, he has struck out only five times.


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