Bucs' starting pitching bright spot in recent losses

Three starters combined for 0.90 ERA in series vs. Cardinals

Bucs' starting pitching bright spot in recent losses

ST. LOUIS -- There were some mighty big numbers in the fabulous Pirates-Cardinals series. Like 1,048 pitches over 35 innings played across 11 hours and 26 minutes.

One of the most impressive numbers, however, was a small one: 0.90. That was the combined weekend ERA of the three starting pitchers who took the ball for the Bucs.

"Fantastic," manager Clint Hurdle exclaimed after Vance Worley's turn in the early going of Sunday's 3-2, 14-inning loss in Busch Stadium. "Vance went out there and just took the baton and ran with it."

The handoff came from Francisco Liriano, who had allowed one run in eight innings on Saturday, when he had taken the handoff from A.J. Burnett, who had given the Cardinals zip in six innings of Friday's series opener.

And in the Pirates' last game prior to arriving here, Gerrit Cole gave them six innings without an earned run against the Cubs. That's two earned in 26 innings, an 0.69 ERA -- and a record of 1-3 in the four games.

"We're all going out there to give the team the best chance to win, and the way things are going now, we gotta keep the scoring as low as possible," said Worley, who was finished long before the Cardinals' Kolten Wong sent everyone to the showers with his 14th-inning home run. "It's a matter of time before we all bust out of our funk."

Wong's walk-off solo blast

The lineup is in need of a bust-out. The rotation can stay right where it is, in its groove. A knee-jerk reaction is to lament the Bucs wasting such good pitching, but the guys in the clubhouse are a little more pragmatic,

"People will say, 'Well, you lost those opportunities.' But know what? What's gone is gone," Hurdle said. "Our best approach is to focus on what needs to be done today."

Or on Tuesday. Jeff Locke, the last Pittsburgh starter hit hard, will take the hill in PNC Park against the Reds, hoping to merge into the good lane.

Worley credited his effectiveness to "mixing the pitches," a mandate on which he and catcher Chris Stewart concurred.

"This was my first time [throwing to] Stewart for more than one batter, and we had a good talk before we went out to play catch," Worley said. "We had a good game plan. We knew that against this lineup, we had to mix it up and not be predictable."

The veteran Stewart and the Bucs' miserly pitching could be one of those chicken-or-the-egg puzzles. Stewart's season was delayed by his recovery from a strain of his left hamstring, and Sunday's game was the Pirates' first loss in the five games he has caught. He'll continue to spell regular Francisco Cervelli a couple times a week.

Furthermore, until Matt Carpenter's home run off Worley in the fourth inning, Stewart had caught 27 straight innings in which his batterymates had not given up an earned run.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.