Pirates take series from Cardinals, give Hurdle 700th career win
ST. LOUIS — This could have been the month that sank the Pirates' season before it even had a chance to get rolling.
Andrew McCutchen is in arguably the worst funk of his career. The starting rotation has been erratic. Neil Walker and Travis Snider are injured. Jonathan Sanchez has more suspensions than quality starts. The schedule has been loaded with land mines against playoff teams and challenging road trips.
Bring it on, April.
After a 9-0 rout of the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, the Pirates sit atop the NL Central. They've won 15 games in April for the first time since 1992.
At this point, there doesn't seem to be anything they can't handle.
“There are so many dynamics going on with this club right now,” infielder John McDonald said. “No one's thinking ahead to tomorrow. It's a good mentality to have.”
In the opener of this three-game set, Sanchez left without retiring a batter, and Walker left with a bloody right hand. Two days later, the Pirates pulled off an impressive series win and made Clint Hurdle the 11th active manager to reach 700 victories.
“The toughest inning we had here was the first on Friday night,” Hurdle said. “We've played well here. I'm just glad we didn't play 19 innings.”
Last season, the Pirates won a 19-inning game Aug. 19 at Busch Stadium, but then began a free-fall that snuffed their bid for a winning season.
There is still too much season left to say how things will go this year. But Sunday showed what it can be like when everything clicks.
“This helps us believe we have the team we think we have,” catcher Russell Martin said. “We have power. We play good defense. The key is to be consistent, and we've been doing it every day.”
Even with McCutchen, who's hitting .216, getting a day off, the Pirates still flashed power. Martin notched his seventh two-homer game. Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones each added a solo shot.
Lefty Jeff Locke and reliever Justin Wilson combined to produce the Pirates' fifth shutout, which is tied for the NL lead.
“I always want to get my pitcher locked in,” Martin said. “What makes a difference between a good team and a contending team is your ability to pitch. Anything I can do offensively is a plus.”
Locke (3-1) worked seven innings, the first time in 15 big league starts he's gotten that far. He's riding a streak of 13 scoreless innings that began with his previous outing against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Confidence and execution,” Locke said. “A lot of sinkers today, trying to keep them off balance.”
Martin hit a solo shot off righty Shelby Miller (2-2) and a two-run blast off reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Martin also doubled and raised his batting average to .267.
Over his past 12 games, Martin is batting .409 (18 for 44) — quite a turnaround from the way his season began. Martin went hitless in his first 17 at-bats and his average didn't climb above .200 until April 21.
“It's just the way baseball is,” Martin said. “But it's nice when hard work pays off. It's nice when you make adjustments and see results.”
Jones' homer originally was ruled a ball in play, and he stopped at third base. That call was overturned by a replay review, snapping a run of 49 homerless at-bats for Jones.
“I couldn't really tell if it went out,” Jones said. “I'm usually good for one or two triples a year. So if they hadn't (reversed the call), that would've been my triple.”
Jones walked in his final at-bat and wound up a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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