PITTSBURGH -- For nearly two months, Andrew McCutchen struggled at the plate like never before. For a month and a half, John Jaso fared even worse. But both have turned their seasons around, and they led the Pirates' lineup past Chris Archer and the Rays in a 4-0 win on
PITTSBURGH -- For nearly two months, Andrew McCutchen struggled at the plate like never before. For a month and a half, John Jaso fared even worse. But both have turned their seasons around, and they led the Pirates' lineup past Chris Archer and the Rays in a 4-0 win on Thursday night at PNC Park.
McCutchen's resurgence has been well-documented. Since his average dropped to .200 on May 23, he has hit .396 and seemingly recaptured his MVP form. He put together his fourth three-hit game of the month, reached base four times and drove in Pittsburgh's first run, swatting a low slider from Archer into center field for an RBI single. He later lined a fastball off the right-field wall for a double.
"Look where the balls were hit tonight. Look at the pitcher he's hitting them off of," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's an elite player. We've lost sight of that, some of us have. He's capable of doing those things. It's nothing that he hasn't done before. He's in a good place."
That was essentially all right-hander Jameson Taillon needed as he fired 6 1/3 innings in his fourth start since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer. Relievers Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Edgar Santana closed out the win that kept the Pirates four games behind the Brewers -- despite being five games under .500 -- in the crowded National League Central race.
"I feel healthy. I'm back," said Taillon, who has thrown six innings in his last two starts. "I feel like I'm back with the team, I'm contributing and we're playing for something."
If not for McCutchen's streak, Jaso might be Pittsburgh's most improved player. The veteran put his miserable start further behind him against his former team, lining his sixth home run of the season into the right-center-field seats in the fourth inning. Jaso is hitting .322 with five homers and 17 RBIs since May 9.
"John continues to show us his value," Hurdle said.
Archer's primary issue was the long ball, as he also surrendered a sixth-inning homer to Gregory Polanco. In all, Archer was charged with three runs on eight hits in six frames.
"I'm just wishing that I could have executed a handful of pitches at a higher level [and] kept the game a little bit closer, give us a little bit better of a chance," Archer said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
El Coffee heating up? Polanco entered Thursday batting just .188 with a .512 OPS in June, slumping to the point that he sat out of the lineup three times in the previous eight days and moved down to the sixth spot in the order. After grounding out to second base in his first two at-bats, Polanco put together an eight-pitch at-bat against Archer in the sixth inning. With the count full, the long-limbed lefty fouled off two straight sliders to stay alive. After spending the afternoon working with a breaking ball machine, Polanco unloaded on an 89.8-mph slider, crushing it a Statcast-projected 395 feet into the right-field seats for his sixth home run of the season.
"We did it today exactly how Archer throws. He throws hard," Polanco said. "Just trying to stay ready and get ready for a slider."
Elementary for Watson: When Taillon left the game with one out in the seventh and runners on first and second, Hurdle put the game in the hands of left-hander Watson, Pittsburgh's former closer. Watson struck out Corey Dickerson on three pitches, then got Evan Longoria to pop out on the first pitch of his at-bat. Watson's velocity appears to be back in top form, as each of his three sinkers clocked in above 94.5 mph, according to Statcast™.
"[Catcher Chris Stewart] and I were on the same page right away," Watson said. "Honestly, a ground-ball, first-pitch double play would have been great to save some bullets. … Got a big out. Longoria's no slouch, either, obviously. Everybody knows what he's capable of doing. Tried to go hard in and get in on the hands."
"He's confident. He's convicted in the box. He's showing us the abilities that he's had and we've seen in the past. I'll guarantee you that Archer's going to look back at some of those pitches and go, 'Man, those were good pitches.' They were." -- Hurdle, on McCutchen
"Last year at the [All-Star] break, we were pretty much out of it. And to be one game over .500 in the AL East -- in the toughest division, most competitive right now in baseball -- is pretty darn good if you ask me. When September comes, we would like to be more than one game over .500, but if you can hover around .500 until you get hot, that's great." -- Steven Souza Jr., on the Rays reaching the midway point of the season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Josh Harrison was hit by two pitches: one in the first and another in the seventh. He now has four games with multiple hit-by-pitches this season, two shy of the full-season record set by Ron Hunt and Craig Biggio.
The Pirates kept the Rays from hitting a home run while winning the three-game series. It marked the first time this season Tampa Bay did not go deep in a series.
John Tumpane, who helped stop a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente Bridge before serving as the home-plate umpire in Wednesday's game, was honored on Thursday.
After spending eight seasons in the Minors, Adam Kolarek finally pitched on a Major League mound. Entering for the Rays in the seventh with runners on first and second and two outs, he fared well in his debut. Kolarek struck out Jordy Mercer, while allowing just one hit in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
"He was nasty, I wouldn't want to be a lefty facing him," Souza said. "To come here and act like he's been here for a while and face some pretty good hitters and dominate them, that was pretty impressive."
Dickerson made a five-star catch on his dive to end the fourth. To make the grab, the left fielder had to travel 48 feet in 3.3 seconds with only a 21-percent catch probability, per Statcast™. Dickerson is now 2-for-5 in five-star opportunities this season.
Rays: Tampa Bay will travel to Baltimore for a three-game series against the Orioles beginning at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday. Right-hander Jacob Faria will start for the Rays, making just his fifth start in the Majors. He has recorded a quality start in all four outings, allowing just six earned runs in 25 2/3 innings.
Pirates: The Pirates will welcome the Giants to PNC Park for a three-game series, their last home set before the All-Star break, beginning at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday. Right-hander Gerrit Cole will start the series opener having rebounded from a rough four-start stretch. In his last three outings, Cole has posted a 1.35 ERA.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.
Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh and covered the Rays on Thursday.