Tuesday was tough for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with star center fielder Andrew McCutchen getting diagnosed with a broken rib in the afternoon and the Miami Marlins rallying for a win at PNC Park in the evening.
The Pirates’ run of troublesome events continued Wednesday afternoon, when manager Clint Hurdle revealed that Neil Walker would only be available off the bench for the middle game of the series with Miami, as the second baseman continues to battle lower-back tightness.
But instead of stumbling to their third loss in a row, the beleaguered Bucs put up four runs in the first inning and three more in the seventh to run away with a 7-3 victory over the Marlins.
Pittsburgh (60-53) gained ground in the National League Central race with the win, moving within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Brewers and 1/2 game behind the second-place Cardinals, who both lost Wednesday. St. Louis holds the NL’s second wild-card spot as well.
Josh Harrison was placed in the leadoff spot after spending Tuesday’s game as the No. 3 hitter, and he responded with a three-hit game that increased his season-long hitting streak to 10. His double in the first started the early assault on Marlins starter Tom Koehler, with Ike Davis delivering the big blow with a bases-loaded double that put the Pirates ahead 2-1.
Travis Snider (groundout) and Jordy Mercer (single) added RBIs of their own later in the inning, giving Pittsburgh an early cushion. However, Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke struggled with his command in the opening two frames, during which the Marlins (55-58) banged out five hits.
Christian Yelich‘s line-drive two-run homer into the right-field grandstand cut the Bucs’ advantage to 4-3, but Locke discovered an effective rhythm after that, retiring 16 of 17 batters to get through seven innings. Unlike his last two starts, when he walked five combined batters, Locke didn’t hand out any free passes Wednesday. Combine that control with seven strikeouts, and it was yet another high-quality performance from a Pirates starter.
Unlike Tuesday night, the Bucs poured on enough late offense to make the outcome secure. Locke and Harrison knocked one-out singles against reliever Chris Hatcher in the seventh, then Russell Martin drove a run-scoring hit off Mike Dunn to create some breathing room. Gaby Sanchez kept the train running, slamming a two-run double off the right-field wall.
Tony Watson, who wasn’t available the previous night after pitching in four of out five games, dominated the Marlins with a pair of strikeouts in a perfect eighth. Mark Melancon hadn’t seen game action in three days, but he shook off a two-out single to close out the win, which improved the Pirates to 11-7 since the all-star break.