Edinson Volquez couldn’t seem to find the strike zone in the first inning of his start against the Philadelphia Phillies, throwing 11 of his 16 pitches for balls.
After escaping the jam unscathed, he got some advice from pitching coach Ray Searage.
The rest of the way went smoothly with Volquez allowing a run over seven innings, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 3-2 Saturday.
“He slowed me down,” Volquez said. “I was too fast to the plate and everything was late with my hands to get the ball where I wanted.”
The adjustment worked.
“I could see the strike zone a little closer to me and I felt like I could put the ball where I wanted,” Volquez said.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the first and Volquez (7-6) had an RBI groundout with the bases loaded in the second inning as the Pirates moved a season-high five games over .500 at 46-41. The Pirates could’ve added to the 3-0 lead but Gregory Polanco Starling Marte each flew out with men on second and third.
Volquez allowed four hits and walked four. He struck out five in his third straight win.
“He battled,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was a very, I thought, gritty performance by him today because he spent a lot of time out of the stretch again.”
McCutchen followed up Friday’s game, when he was a home run shy of the cycle, with the big hit off David Buchanan. McCutchen connected to right after Polanco led off the home first with a single.
McCutchen said it was nice to begin his day with a home run after he ended Friday with a ball that smacked the wall about 10 feet lower than necessary to clear it.
“I got a little better swing on it,” McCutchen said. “(I) got out in front of it a little more so I was able to get hands through the zone and put a little more backspin on it.”
Hurdle was pleased his team jumped on top early, similar to the way the Pirates scored four runs in the first inning Friday.
“It’s always nice to get in front,” he said. “It does give you a sense of momentum coming out of the chute.”
Philadelphia dropped a season-high 13 games below .500 at 37-50.
“We haven’t been able to bounce back from being down early in the game,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It’s been different when we’ve scored early. It’s something we’re going to have to try and do, score earlier in games.”
Buchanan (4-5) found his stride after the second and kept the Pirates at bay until he was lifted in the sixth. Philadelphia’s starter was charged with three runs and six hits and an intentional walk.
“The biggest thing for me today was not walking anybody,” Buchanan said. “If you throw strikes and make them put it in play then good things usually happen.”
Marlon Byrd stranded five men on base in his first two at-bats. He flew out in the first to leave men on the corners, then struck on four pitches to end the third with the bases loaded.
Byrd homered off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the ninth but even an attempt at starting a rally wasn’t enough to appease the right fielder after his earlier at-bats.
“I have to do a better job producing in the first at-bat, too,” Byrd said. “Bases loaded and I struck out. My job is to produce.”
Melancon retired to next three batters he faced for his 16th save. Tony Watson worked a perfect eighth.
Cody Asche homered in the fourth for Philadelphia against Volquez.
NOTES: Asche’s home run in the fourth inning snapped a 16-inning scoreless streak for Volquez. . In their last 14 starts, Pittsburgh’s starting pitchers have combined to post a 2.32 ERA. . Pittsburgh SS Jordy Mercer doubled twice and is batting .714 (10 for 14) in his last five games. . Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (1-1, 3.46 ERA) faces Phillies RHP A.J. Burnett (5-7, 3.92 ERA) when Pittsburgh and Philadelphia conclude their three-game series Sunday.