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Bucs jump on Reds' bullpen after Cueto exits

Marte drives in winner in fifth after Cincinnati ace leaves injured

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates starter Jeff Locke and his mound adversary, Reds starter Johnny Cueto, both had to leave the PNC Park mound in the fifth inning Saturday night.

The reasons for their departures in a tied game were quite different -- Cueto due to pain in his right triceps, Locke for a pinch-hitter -- but all the same, the game was thrown into a battle of the bullpens.

Right now, you don't want to take on the Buccos' bullpen. While four of their arms held down the Reds, the Pirates produced timely hits off Cincinnati relievers for a 3-1 victory, their second consecutive win against the defending National League Central champs and their fourth in five games.

With the cheers of 25,118 still ringing in his ears, Jason Grilli said, "I love it. That's why I'm here. That's why I came back [as a free agent]. It's nice when you have electricity in the ballpark. Winning is fun, and fans want to see the team win."

Clutch set up this latest win: RBI hits by Garrett Jones, Starling Marte and pinch-hitter Jose Tabata all came with two outs.

And Grilli, following set-up man Mark Melancon, sealed it.

"Those two guys put us in a good place when they get to pitch," manager Clint Hurdle had said after Friday's series-opening win, and there was no reason to change that tune on Saturday night.

It marked the fourth time this week that Melancon and Grilli -- now five-for-five in save opportunities -- worked the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. The Pirates have won all four games.

Melancon has been sensational in his own right -- seven appearances, seven innings, two hits and nothing else -- but, in an ironic sense, entered the season more proven than the Pirates' new closer.

As Grilli pointed out, "He has had success as a closer, too," a reference to the role Melancon filled with the Astros in 2011.

Grilli had not. At 36, he has waded into a young man's pool, and seeing him walk on that water is bringing Hurdle a lot of satisfaction.

"There is still a lot of ground to cover," the manager said, "but you see the stuff. Age scares a lot of people. I got a lot of questions [about Grilli] this spring, and most of them were age-related. 'He's never done it.' But he's always been motivated by opportunities to do things he's never gotten a shot to do.

"So far, he's given us what we thought he could give us."

The Pirates still had to take advantage of Cueto's abrupt departure one out into the fifth inning. He was working on a two-hitter, maintaining his grip on the Bucs until experiencing the pain on a pitch to Travis Snider. He brought a 12-4 record against Pittsburgh, and 7-2 mark in Pittsburgh, into this start.

Within minutes after Cueto's departure, the Pirates had three more hits. Snider welcomed reliever Alfredo Simon with a single, moved up on Clint Barmes' base hit, and after advancing to third on a fly ball, scored on Marte's single for a 2-1 lead.

The Bucs added an insurance run on Tabata's pinch-hit double with two out in the seventh off another Reds reliever, J.J. Hoover, who allowed a runner inherited from Simon to score.

The Bucs' second line of pitching, behind a tenacious Locke, was a little more secure.

Justin Wilson avoided two-on trouble by himself in the sixth and with Jared Hughes' assistance in the seventh. Those were merely the latest opportunities squandered by the Reds, who put two men on base in six of the first seven innings, yet scored only on a solo homer in the third by Zack Cozart.

The Bucs matched Cozart's homer an inning later, when a two-out walk of Andrew McCutchen was converted into a run by Jones' double into the left-center alley.

"We had plenty of opportunities," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "We just didn't execute. When you have three men on second base with nobody out and don't advance them, it's tough to win like that. When you're not scoring and you're not hitting, you really have to execute."

Locke did not throw a first-pitch strike until facing his ninth hitter, Cueto, and started off only 10 of 23 hitters with strikes.

Yet he found himself locked into a 1-1 duel with Cincinnati's No. 1, until both departed the game in the fifth inning, Locke for pinch-hitter Josh Harrison, whose fly ball to deep right moved Snider to third base to set up the go-ahead run.

"He competed," Hurdle said of Locke, who earned with his second win in 12 Major League starts. "He had to. We had to, all night. We had only two three-up, three-down innings. We were pitching out of the stretch all evening.

"All the staples you like to have off the mound … we didn't have any of it. Except that we didn't let people score. That's never not good."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Jeff Locke, Garrett Jones