Pirates climb back to .500 with 8-1 victory over Rays

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, June 23, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez felt strong enough to go the distance Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Volquez didn't hurl a complete game, but he did pitch eight innings for the first time in more than a year as the Pirates routed the Rays, 8-1, and climbed back to .500 at 38-38.

“I was too fresh from the last time, when I only pitched two innings,” Volquez said with a laugh.

In the wake of one of the worst outings of his career — an eight-run, 2 13-inning nightmare Wednesday against Cincinnati — Volquez (5-6) was solid against Tampa.

The right-hander gave up one run and five hits, walked two and struck out one. It was Volquez's first eight-inning outing since May 28, 2013, when he was with the San Diego Padres.

“I had a good performance tonight,” Volquez said. “The whole team did.”

Pedro Alvarez capped a four-run third inning by hitting a titanic three-run homer. Andrew McCutchen had three hits and two RBIs. The defense turned three double plays.

Volquez's short outing last week taxed the bullpen. It was so bad that Volquez would have been used as an emergency reliever if a game had gotten out of hand last weekend against the Chicago Cubs.

Volquez didn't change his routine between starts, but manager Clint Hurdle believes he was more intense Monday than before.

“Sometimes, it's the work you do between starts,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, it's just knowing you've got to bounce back. He went out with more focus.”

With his pitch count only around 60 in the fifth inning, Volquez thought he had a shot at what would have been his second career complete game.

“I was thinking about it,” Volquez said. “But then I walked a couple guys, and I was like, ‘Well, maybe not.' ”

With one out in the first inning, Starling Marte squared to bunt at Alex Cobb's first pitch, but the ball nicked him on the shoulder. After Marte stole second base, McCutchen rolled a single into center field.

Instead of taking off for third, Marte took a couple of quick steps back toward second. Marte might have thought the shortstop had a chance at the ball and didn't want to run into another 6-5 putout.

Whatever the reason, it caused McCutchen to laugh and spread his arms as if to say, “What gives?” as he ran to first base.

Marte scored on Josh Harrison's groundout. McCutchen scored on Russell Martin's infield single to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

McCutchen got the third-inning rally going with a run-scoring single. It was his 52nd RBI in interleague play, moving McCutchen ahead of Brian Giles for the most in Pirates history.

With two outs, Harrison walked. Cobb then threw a first-pitch fastball to Alvarez and immediately hung his head.

“It was supposed to be in a little bit more,” Cobb said. “I'd thrown a few changeups, so I thought I might've had the inner half opened up a little bit. But it's tough to sneak a fastball down the middle.”

Alvarez launched the ball 419 feet to center field, crashing it near the top of the batter's eye.

It was Alvarez's 12th home run of the season and the first time he knocked in a run since June 7.

“A lot of times, people have been taking their chances with Pedro,” Hurdle said. “He's an important part of our offense. We need him to fire and drive in runs. Three-run homers always play well — a confidence boost for him.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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