MIAMI -- It had been a frustrating month for Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke. Even as Pittsburgh kept winning, Locke often struggled. He hadn't finished the sixth inning in six starts. His ERA during that stretch started with a six. But he put that behind him Wednesday night at Marlins Park, firing seven strong innings as the Pirates cruised to a 7-2 win over the Marlins.
Andrew McCutchen crushed a three-run homer as part of a six-run second inning, giving Locke plenty of room to work with. And Locke took full advantage of the early run support, getting better as the night wore on in his best start of the second half.
"We have such a good ballclub. You don't really want to have any question marks in your rotation, especially at this point in the season," said Locke, who held the Marlins to two runs on five hits. " I feel like the way I pitched, I've kind of been that for a little while.
"To put a good solid outing under your belt moving forward, if anything, it just builds a little bit more confidence and maybe puts some more confidence in the guys in the clubhouse, too."
McCutchen provided the spark for the Bucs' lineup, driving in four runs and capping off their six-run rally against Marlins left-hander Chris Narveson with a 414-foot blast into the left-field bleachers. Michael Morse and Neil Walker hit back-to-back doubles during Pittsburgh's big frame, while Chris Stewart and Starling Marte each singled home a run.
"That six-run second inning was just a big mountain to climb," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said.
The Pirates moved back to 27 games over .500, remaining 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and increasing their NL Wild Card lead over the Cubs to 3 games.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Run producer: McCutchen's four RBIs not only gave the Pirates a big lead within the first two innings; it put him on a run-producing pace he's yet to achieve in his career. The Pirates star center fielder has now driven in 85 runs in 122 games this season, two more than a year ago and one more than he did in his 2013 NL MVP campaign. His career-high mark is 96, set in 2012. More >
J-Hay walking away:Josh Harrison returned to the leadoff spot and helped set the table for both of the Pirates' early rallies. Harrison drew a leadoff walk against Narveson and came around to score on McCutchen's one-out double, and he walked again on five pitches with one out in the second before scoring on McCutchen's homer. It was just the third time in his career that Harrison has drawn two walks in the same game.
Narveson's short start: For the first time since April 12, 2012, Narveson was making a big league start. The lefty was with the Brewers at the time.The long wait was followed up by a brief 3 2/3-inning outing, as the Pirates broke the game open with six runs in the second. The fact Narveson was able to get through the second inning and work into the fourth actually helped save the Miami bullpen. Narveson threw 79 pitches, his most in an MLB game since tossing 73 on April 5, 2012.
"I was just missing up a little bit," Narveson said. "I think I was a little amped up and trying to do a little too much. Obviously I left some balls up and they did what they were supposed to."
Cordier's bounce-back outing: Two nights after being ejected for hitting Sean Rodriguez with a 97-mph fastball, Erik Cordier was back on the mound, pitching in long relief for Miami. Cordier was anything but wild on Wednesday. The hard-throwing right-hander picked up for Narveson, and worked 3 1/3 hitless innings, striking out four and walking just one. Cordier threw 44 pitches.
"J.T. [Realmuto] did an awesome job behind the plate calling a good game with me, even though we haven't had a whole lot of time together," Cordier said. "So it was a good appearance." More >
"We're looking for something like that. We know we're capable of doing that on a regular basis." -- McCutchen, on the Pirates' six-run second inning
"He held serve there early and then got better the last three frames. It was good to see. The length was good to see." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Locke
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
McCutchen's three-run homer in the second was his 20th of the season. He is the fifth Pirates player to hit 20 home runs in at least five straight seasons. The other four: Willie Stargell (13 straight), Ralph Kiner (seven), Frank Thomas (six) and Jason Bay (five).
This was Hurdle's 409th win as manager of the Pirates, tying Bill McKechnie for seventh place on Pittsburgh's all-time wins list.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Gerrit Cole will try to close out a series victory as the Pirates taken on the Marlins on Thursday night at 7:10 p.m. ET. Cole is coming off a strong outing against the Giants in which he permitted only one (unearned) run while striking out eight over seven innings.
Marlins: The Marlins conclude their four-game series and eight-game homestand on Thursday night at 7:10 p.m. ET. Rookie Justin Nicolino (2-1, 3.77) will make his sixth big league start.