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This time, bullpen finishes job … and a 2-8 trip


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Felipe Vazquez pitches the ninth inning Sunday in Miami. - AP

MIAMIClint Hurdle had to ask a little extra out of his two best relief pitchers.

However, both Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez were up to the task. And, for a change, the bullpen closed out a win without any hiccups.

The Pirates scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning to rally for a 5-4 win over the Marlins on Sunday in the finale of a three-game series at Marlins Park. The Pirates (32-39) took two of three from the Marlins to salvage something from a miserable 2-8 trip that began in Milwaukee and Atlanta.

“There should be some smiles on the flight home,” Clint Hurdle said.

After the Pirates scored two runs in the top of the seventh to pull in front 5-4 on Melky Cabrera's hit RBI triple and Josh Bell’s run-scoring double, Hurdle went to Crick to pitch the bottom half. That’s an inning earlier than normal.

However, Crick held the Marlins scoreless in the seventh then got the first two outs in the eighth inning.

At that point, Hurdle called on Vazquez to attempt to get a four-out save. The strategy worked — Vazquez retired four of the five batters he faced for his 16th save, throwing just 11 pitches.

“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t go multiple innings with either guy but with the off day tomorrow, we felt we could do it,” Hurdle said, referring to the Pirates having an open date on the schedule Monday before opening a two-game series Tuesday night against the Tigers at PNC Park. “They both did a great job.”

The win went to Richard Rodriguez (1-3), who pitched a 1-2-3 sixth after replacing Chris Archer, who gave up four runs in five innings. That was a welcome sign from Rodriguez whose best pitch this season has been the gopherball, as he has continually been tagged for pivotal home runs.

“That’s so big for Richie,” Archer said. “He went out there and shut them down, kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back. We really needed that, and he did a great job.”

Archer also talked about how his teammates helped take him off the hook:

The bullpen figured to be one of the Pirates’ strengths coming into the season. Instead, the relievers had a 5.43 ERA coming into Sunday.

Part of the problem is that primary set-up man Keone Kela has been sidelined by shoulder inflammation for nearly six weeks. He began a throwing program Thursday at the spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla., but isn’t expected back anytime soon.

However, other relievers have also struggled. No one in the parade of bullpen arms the Pirates have brought up from Class AAA Indianapolis has proven to be very effective.

Vazquez and Crick, though, have been rocks all season. Vazquez has blown only one save opportunity while compiling a 2.12 ERA in 27 games. Crick has a 2.63 ERA and has been scored on in just three of his 25 appearances:

“They’re shutdown guys,” Archer said. “You know when you turn the game over to those guys, you’re going to win the game. Our relievers have had some struggles, our whole pitching staff has. But when we set up the bullpen like we did today, then I really like our chances a lot.”

The Pirates allowed eight runs in three games against the Marlins, who have the worst record in the National League at 25-44. That came after they were hammered for 54 runs in the first seven games of the trip against the Braves and Brewers, who both have very good chances of returning to the postseason.

“We did a good job here, but we’ve got to do a better job against other teams,” Archer said.

Yet, there was a sense that the pitching might finally be starting to settle down, especially the relievers. Throw in the fact that Sunday ended a stretch of 27 games in 27 days and it seems like the worst might be over.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Hurdle said.

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