PITTSBURGH -- No matter the role, reliever or starter, David Phelps has delivered. The right-hander stepped up yet again on Saturday night, striking out nine and allowing just two hits in the Marlins' 3-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
Backed by Xavier Scruggs' two-run homer, the first blast of his career, the Marlins claimed the first two games of the series and moved to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals -- and a half-game ahead of the Bucs -- in the chase for the second National League Wild Card spot.
"I'm happy to be able to help this team. I'm happy to be able to contribute," Scruggs said. "They're already doing what they need to be doing. Just happy to be here with a winning team and help out."
Josh Harrison had three of the Pirates' four hits, including a two-out RBI single off Kyle Barraclough in the eighth inning to make it a two-run game. But Fernando Rodney shut down Pittsburgh's thoughts of a rally with a perfect ninth inning for his 23rd save, and sixth as a Marlin.
By taking the first two in Pittsburgh, the Marlins are 3-3 on their road trip that started with dropping three of four at Cincinnati.
"Things change quickly," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We come out of Cincinnati and everybody is not feeling great. You guys are asking me questions, are we fading, or whatever. Two days later, you feel like you've got a good club here and you've got a chance to do some things."
Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl had an interesting outing because he didn't walk or strike out a batter in six innings. He allowed three runs -- two earned. But the night belonged to Phelps, who now has a 1.31 ERA in his four starts since joining the rotation.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Phelps' standout start: Since making the move from the back end of the bullpen, Phelps has become one of Miami's most impressive starters. He matched his career high with nine strikeouts vs. the Pirates, and he was able to keep them off the board despite being tested in the fifth and sixth innings. After he walked two with two outs in the fifth, the righty retired Jordy Mercer on a flyout to right. And in the sixth inning, Harrison doubled, but Phelps fanned Andrew McCutchen with a 90.6-mph cutter.
"To give us six there, and obviously the zeros have been great, and the way he's pitched has been great," Mattingly said. "Now we're getting to the point in which he said he felt like he could have gone back out [for seventh]." More >
Cooled off: The Pirates had won Kuhl's first six Major League starts, but that streak came to an end despite the rookie's quality start. The Scruggs homer was his only big mistake, as the other run scored in the third inning, when McCutchen misplayed a Dee Gordon drive to center, allowing Miguel Rojas to come home.
"I thought Kuhl pitched a very competitive ballgame," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "First-pitch strikes were good, no walks again. Ten guys retired on three pitches or less. One pitch he'd like to have back."
"You try to be comfortable," Kuhl said. "Everyone around me makes it a ton easier, whether it be [pitching coach] Ray Searage or the guys on the team. They just make it a comfortable environment, and I'm just trying to go out there and do my best and do my part."
Scruggs according to script: Scruggs was called up from Triple-A on Friday to provide some power at first base. In his second start, the 28-year-old connected. Scruggs' two-out, two-run homer in the fourth inning gave Miami a 3-0 lead. According to Statcast™, the blast to left off Kuhl landed a projected 421 feet away, with an exit velocity of 108 mph. Scruggs belted 21 home runs in New Orleans before being called up.
"That's the thing that was most important, just to be able to provide something for this team," Scruggs said. "You can get a hit at any time. But the big hits are the ones that really matter."
Quietly into the night: With a single and a double, Harrison was the lone Pirate to solve Phelps, and after Jordy Mercer doubled in the eighth, Harrison's third hit broke up the shutout.
"That's a guy that I faced him in college, faced him in pro ball in the Minor Leagues," Harrison said of Phelps. "He's a guy that throws to both sides of the plate, and he had his stuff working tonight.
"As a hitter you never want to give credit. But to an extent you know you've got to say he made pitches." More >
"Good team win. This road trip hasn't kind of gone our way from the beginning. This is a big series for us. We've got to focus on tomorrow and just work one game at a time. We've talked about it before: a team is going to go on a roll. We need it to be us. Our schedule is not going to get any easier as we move forward. I feel like we kind of hold our own destiny. We play the teams ahead of us." -- Miami reliever Mike Dunn, who threw a scoreless seventh inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Ichiro Suzuki keeps climbing MLB's hits leaderboard. With his two-out double in the fourth inning, Ichiro collected his 3,008th hit, passing Al Kaline (3,007) for 28th place all-time. Up next for Ichiro is Wade Boggs (3,010).
An overturned call saved Phelps from having to be reminded that he was thrown out from right field on a ball that almost always is a single. In the third inning, Phelps hit the ball to right, and Gregory Polanco, playing shallow with the Miami pitcher at the plate, charged and threw a one-hopper to John Jaso at first base. The initial call was out. But after a review of 52 seconds, the call was overturned.
"I was safe," Phelps said. "I think I caught them off guard with my blazing speed. ... As soon as I hit it that way. I took a couple of steps and I was, 'I gotta get going. He's got a cannon.' That's a smart play on his part."
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: The Marlins close out their seven-game road trip in Sunday's 1:35 p.m. ET series finale at PNC Park. Jose Urena (1-4, 6.80 ERA) gets the start for Miami. Urena is back in the rotation because lefty Adam Conley (left hand) is on the disabled list.
Pirates:Ryan Vogelsong (2-2, 3.20) will close out the set for the Pirates on Sunday. The 39-year old right-hander is 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA since coming off the DL on Aug. 4 .