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Pirates top A's, start July with a bang

July 1, 2016

OAKLAND -- Pirates starter Jeff Locke appeared headed for trouble against the A's Friday, allowing three runs over his first two innings, including a two-run homer to Marcus Semien. But he settled down to retire the final nine batters he faced, abruptly stymying a hot Oakland offense.The Pirates, who have

OAKLAND -- Pirates starter Jeff Locke appeared headed for trouble against the A's Friday, allowing three runs over his first two innings, including a two-run homer to Marcus Semien. But he settled down to retire the final nine batters he faced, abruptly stymying a hot Oakland offense.
The Pirates, who have now won five of their last seven, then took control, toppling Sonny Gray to hand the A's a 7-3 loss.

"It's a sign of maturity. He didn't have his 'A' game. It might have been his 'B' game," manager Clint Hurdle said of Locke. "He made enough pitches to find a way to get through five [innings] and our offense came alive and did a really nice job fighting back, scratching and getting runs off Gray."

Gray struggled, allowing seven runs over six innings, including five runs over his final two innings to lose for the seventh time this season. Trailing 4-3, Gray hit Starling Marte with two outs and no runners on in the sixth. He then uncorked a wild pitch to David Freese, who later walked, before Matt Joyce added an RBI single and Josh Harrison capped the three-run sixth with a two-run double.
"We just stayed the course. We knew we were still within striking distance," Harrison said. "That's the name of the game, chip away. It started with [shortstop Jordy Mercer's third-inning] home run. You could kind of feel from that point, 'Hey, we're going to go get them.'"
"I have to be able to shut that inning down and get back out there for the seventh," Gray said. "I hit a batter, walked a guy, and it just kind of escalated from there."
Gray is winless in his last 11 starts and hasn't won since April 22 in what continues to be an up-and-down season. Friday marked the fifth time in his career -- and the third time this season -- he's allowed seven or more runs.
"This hasn't been his best year," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He'll figure it out. He'll get better as the year goes along. But there's always going to be a year that's not as good as other years. And so far this is the one for him."
Oakland's offense had scored six or more runs in its last seven games and appeared headed that way again when Semien hit his 17th homer of the season, marking a career high and the most among American League shortstops. But Oakland managed just one hit after the second inning, and Locke allowed three runs to win his eighth game of the season.
Pen pals: Once a weakness, the Pirates bullpen has emerged as an unquestioned strength of late. Pittsburgh's relievers had to pick up four innings after Locke left the game, and they delivered virtually spotless work. A.J. Schugel allowed a two-out single but nothing else in the sixth. The flame-throwing Arquimedes Caminero struck out four in two scoreless innings. Called upon in a non-save situation, closer Mark Melancon slammed the door in the ninth. More >

Gray's control goes haywire: Gray retired the first seven batters he faced only to see his control -- and his grip on the game -- slowly fade. He threw two more wild pitches, upping his season total to a league-high 13, including a miscue that allowed Andrew McCutchen to score in the fourth and cut the deficit to 3-2. Things only got worse for Gray when he allowed three runs in the sixth, all coming with two outs. More >
"The ball didn't get a long way away. If you don't go right away, you don't go at all," Hurdle said. "Cutch was spot on."

Keep the line moving: The bottom of the Pirates lineup propped up the top half most of the night, especially in Pittsburgh's three-run sixth inning. Joyce drove in a run and Harrison doubled home two, highlighting a big night for the Bucs' balanced attack. Batting 6-7-8, Joyce, Harrison and Mercer each had two hits and at least one RBI. Catcher Chris Stewart also pushed in a run on a groundout, so six of the Pirates' seven runs were driven in by the bottom four hitters in their lineup.
"That's what makes our team us. It can be anybody," Harrison said. "That's what we've got to get back to. ... Baseball's a funny game. Everything comes back full circle."

Leading off with Lowrie: Melvin opted to rest both Coco Crisp and Billy Burns Friday and slid Jed Lowrie into the leadoff spot for the first time this season -- a decision that immediately worked out. The switch-hitter worked a walk in his first at-bat against Locke despite falling behind in the count 0-2 and scored on Semien's ensuing homer. He added an RBI double in the second to give Oakland an early 3-0 lead.

"He didn't see the interference. Not only was he hanging over the plate interfering with the throw. He also hit Stewart with his arm which slowed down the throw. So it should've been interference." -- Melvin on Josh Phegley's attempt to throw out Harrison stealing in the fifth, in which he hit the batter, Stewart, with his follow-through on the throw
"By no means was it a good performance. Good enough today. Lot of things I'd like to clean up. It's good enough today, I guess that's all I can say about that." -- Locke
This was the Pirates' first win ever in Oakland, as they had lost their previous six games at the Coliseum. They are still 2-11 all-time against the A's.
Locke is now 8-1 with a 2.80 ERA in 11 career Interleague starts.
Pirates: Rookie Chad Kuhl will make his second Major League start against the A's at 10:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Coliseum, lining up opposite A's left-hander Rich Hill. Kuhl made his big league debut in a nationally televised game Sunday night against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, so nerves should be less of an issue this time around. Kuhl handled himself well in his debut, picking up the win as he allowed three runs over five innings.
A's: Hill returns from the disabled to list make his first start in more than a month against the Pirates at the Coliseum, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT. Hill was Oakland's best pitcher through the season's first two months before straining his groin May 29 against the Tigers. He's 8-3 with a 2.25 ERA, and was 5-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his five starts prior to going on the DL.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015.

Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for based in Oakland.