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Worley's solid start gets power boost from Bucs' bats

Righty allows three runs in 6 2/3 innings; Mercer, Harrison hit homers

CHICAGO -- It's early in the act, but the Pirates at least are rehearsing a magic trick with another pitcher. Instead of a rabbit, they are pulling a Vanimal out of their hat.

Vanimal happens to be the Twitter handle of Vance Worley, who Saturday night unfurled another eye-opener.

This time, it was also a drought closer -- and that had nothing to do with the storm that delayed the start of the game two hours.

Worley pitched five-hit ball for 6 2/3 innings to earn the Bucs' 5-3 victory over the Cubs -- his second in 17 starts dating back to August 2012.

"The more consistent you can be, it's better for the team to feel confident behind me," Worley said, after nearly copying his maiden Pirates effort of a week ago.

In Miami, Worley had blanked the Marlins for seven innings, allowing five hits and no runs. In Wrigleyville, he got one fewer out while again allowing five hits.

Two big differences, neither having to do directly with him. Against the Marlins, he received only two runs of support, while against the Cubs he got three from Josh Harrison alone.

And while Worley's 2-0 lead over the Marlins did not survive, this two-run lead was protected by the Bucs' new relief end-game -- Tony Watson pitched a perfect eighth, then Mark Melancon notched his 11th save with another 1-2-3 inning.

"He was sharper in Miami," manager Clint Hurdle said of Worley, "but that's a good body of work. He used all his pitches, and gave us a real good effort. He was very efficient again."

Even before extending his historic career-starting hitting streak to 11 games, Gregory Polanco played a major role in the game. He drew a key two-out full-count walk in the fifth, keeping the inning alive for RBI singles by Harrison and Andrew McCutchen that put the Bucs up, 3-2.

Then, in the seventh, Polanco's replay review-confirmed infield single set up the two-run homer by Harrison that gave the Pirates some breathing room with a 5-2 lead.

Harrison drove in those runs after having again turned his left ankle -- the issue that had forced him to miss two games last week - when grounding out on his second at-bat of the night.

"He rolls his ankle and is able to stay in and drive in three runs in a five-run game," said Hurdle, whose admiration for Harrison obviously keeps growing. "He continues to do a lot of things to help us win games."

The Bucs have homered in eight of their last nine road games -- a total of 13 times, including Jordy Mercer's off lefty starter Travis Wood in the third to give the Pirates an early lead.

Worley had somehow impressed the Pirates this spring by allowing nine runs across five innings of consecutive exhibition starts against them with the Twins. Nine days after the latter of those two, Minnesota sent him outright to the Minors. Four days after that, the Bucs traded for him.

The rest is history … part of the rescue-mission history of Jim Benedict, the pitching specialist assistant of GM Neal Huntington, and Ray Searage, the pitching coach.

Worley's spotless Pittsburgh debut ended in the fourth, after 10 shutout innings on a yield of only five hits. Chris Coghlan led off with a single for the Cubs' first hit in this game, and with one out Anthony Rizzo barely reached the right-field bleachers for his 15th homer and a 2-1 Chicago lead.

"A curve ball," Worley said, with a wry smile. "I remember it very well. He was sitting on something offspeed, and we tried to go back-door on him."

Until that quick and only glitch, Worley had retired the first nine men he faced.

"I was staying down in the zone, not trying to overpower the ball," he said. "As the game got going, in the last couple of innings I was elevating it a little bit, with the offspeed stuff."

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, Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer, Vance Worley