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Patience pays off as starting pitcher Volquez gets 1st win for Pirates

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pinch-hitter Josh Harrison connects on a two-run homer during the seventh inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is greeted at home plate by Starling Marte after hitting a two-run homer during the first inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte steals second base as the Brewers' Scooter Gennett applies a late tag during the first inning Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen hits a two-run homer during the first inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds battles fans for a foul ball during a game against the Pirates on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez delivers during the first inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pinch-hitter Josh Harrison celebrates his two-run homer during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pinch-hitter Josh Harrison celebrates his two-run homer with Jordy Mercer during the seventh inning against the Brewers Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen watches his two-run homer during the first inning against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds battles fans for a foul ball during a game against the Pirates on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won't quite come out and say it, but ... he told ya so.

During spring training, Hurdle preached patience when right-hander Edinson Volquez put up a 9.64 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP in five games.

Amid the rough outings, there were hints — an inning here and there, coming more frequently toward the end of March — of Volquez's potential.

“If you watched throughout the spring, you would've seen improvement,” Hurdle said. “If you just caught one start, not so much.”

Volquez was strong for seven innings Thursday in an 11-2 rout of the Milwaukee Brewers. He gave up two runs on eight hits, walked one and struck out three.

“My first win in a Pirates uniform — a great feeling,” Volquez said.

Josh Harrison broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning with a two-run, pinch-hit home run that clanged off the left field foul pole. Harrison failed on two bunt attempts, then swung at a 2-2 pitch.

“I didn't get the bunt down, but you can't let that affect you,” Harrison said. “That at-bat wasn't over.”

In the eighth, Gaby Sanchez hit a solo shot and Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run, opposite-field homer.

After scuffling the past six seasons with three different teams, Volquez (1-0) got a one-year, $5 million deal in December to be the Pirates' No. 5 starter. He leads the team and ranks among the National League's top 10 starters in ERA (1.71) and WHIP (0.95).

“I do believe in things most people can't see,” Hurdle said before the game. “I'm not right all the time, but I believe in certain things. I believe that if a man is willing to learn, to listen and to buy into a concept bigger than himself, we can help him make a difference.”

Over his first three outings, which included a two-inning relief stint April 3, Volquez threw first-pitch strikes at a career-best 61 percent rate. He also put 55 percent of all his pitches in the strike zone, which also was on track for a career-high.

Volquez worked seven innings Thursday, his longest outing so far, and allowed two runs on eight hits. Fifty-three of his 77 pitches were strikes and he got ahead 1-0 on 16 of 28 batters. Volquez faced only one three-ball count and retired 20 batters on three pitches or fewer.

“I was able to keep all my pitches down,” Volquez said. “Not too many pitches wasted.”

Volquez's first pitch of the game was in the zone, but Carlos Gomez sent it back up the middle for a single. With two outs and Gomez on second base, Aramis Ramirez lined an RBI single to center field.

Starling Marte began the bottom of the first by drawing a full-count walk from right-hander Yovani Gallardo. It was Marte's seventh walk of the season, third-most on the team, but his first since April 10.

With one out, Andrew McCutchen drove a 92 mph sinker over the center field wall, his first home run of the season. Last year, only six of McCutchen's 21 homers came with a runner on base.

The Brewers tied it in the third with another two-out run. Ryan Braun doubled and scored on Jonathan Lucroy's bouncing single to center.

After Lucroy's hit, Volquez retired 11 of the final 14 batters he faced.

“Sometimes, I get too excited in the first couple of innings,” Volquez admitted. “I was able to get refocused and make better pitches.”

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

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