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Blue Jays slam Pirates, Volquez

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, May 4, 2014, 4:33 p.m.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle argues with home plate umpire Greg Gibson during the fifth inning against the Blue Jays on Sunday, May 4, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle argues with home plate umpire Greg Gibson during the fifth inning against the Blue Jays on Sunday, May 4, 2014, at PNC Park.

How low does the strike zone go? The Pirates claimed the answer varied from one inning to the next Sunday in their 7-2 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In the second inning, right-hander Edinson Volquez thought he fired some low strikes, but didn't get the calls from umpire Greg Gibson. Volquez tried to adjust and wound up yielding a grand slam to Colby Rasmus.

Two innings later, Pirates first-base coach Rick Sofield grumbled when Gibson called strike three when Jordy Mercer took a pitch around his knees. Sofield and manager Clint Hurdle were ejected.

“It was pretty apparent the low strike wasn't going to come into play,” Hurdle said. “It got to a point where a pitch that I thought hadn't been called a strike all day was called a strike in a very pivotal at-bat for us.”

Mercer's strikeout came with two outs, two runners on base and the Pirates trailing, 4-1. It turned out to be their last real threat in the game.

As Mercer stood at the plate in disbelief, Sofield walked past and muttered, “Ball was low.” That was too much for Gibson, who earlier had warned Hurdle to stop complaining about calls.

“We disagreed on the strike zone,” Hurdle said. “I thought he let us know that part of the zone was going to be a ball, that's all.”

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Josh Harrison, who started in right field and batted leadoff for the second game in a row, tripled and scored on Neil Walker's ground out.

Harrison tripled and scored again in the eighth inning against right-hander Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays' top pitching prospect who was called up before the game and made his big league debut.

“Just feels good to be in the lineup and help any way I can,” Harrison said. “They were both two-strike fastballs, and I just put a good swing on it.”

The Blue Jays went ahead to stay in the second. Volquez walked Edwin Encarnacion on five pitches, then threw four straight balls to Juan Francisco.

“I made a lot of bad pitches,” Volquez said.

Was he getting squeezed on the strike zone?

“I can't keep that on my mind,” Volquez said. “I've got to let it go and make better pitches. I was all over the place today. I was off a little bit.”

Brett Laurie hit a bouncer that arced high toward the left side. Mercer grabbed the ball on the run, but had trouble getting it out of his glove. Laurie reached on an infield single, loading the bases.

“Just couldn't get a handle on it,” Mercer said.

With a full count against Rasmus, Volquez offered a waist-high curveball. Rasmus launched it into the right-field seats for his fourth career grand slam.

“He felt he was getting the ball in good spots down in the zone, but wasn't getting calls,” Hurdle said. “He tried to make an adjustment and probably over-adjusted.”

Jose Reyes opened the fifth with a double. On the next pitch, Melky Cabrera hit his sixth homer of the year to make it 6-1.

Volquez (1-3) yielded six runs in five innings. He gave up seven hits, walked three and struck out three.

Volquez began the season with five solid outings, including a two-inning relief stint in his debut, but has been roughed up in his past two starts. He gave up six runs in 5 23 innings April 27 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hurdle pointed out that in the loss to the Cardinals, Volquez served up a three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta after a borderline 2-2 pitch was called a ball.

Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (2-1) worked seven innings, his longest outing of the season, and allowed one run on three hits.

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