The Juice: Pirates off to best start since Bonds era; Tony Cingrani and Clayton Kershaw have big days

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to their best start since Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek and Andy Van Slyke were wearing black and gold.

With a 9-0 win Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates reached 15 wins in April for the first time since 1992, when they finished 96-66. By beating the division-rival Cardinals in two games of a three-game series, the Pirates (15-10) crept into first place in the division too.

Here's new Pirate catcher Russell Martin on being in first place:

''It helps us believe we have the team we think we have,'' Martin said. ''The key is to be consistent and do it every day, and we've been doing it every day.''

In Sunday's win, the Pirates got a strong start from rookie Jeff Locke, who pitched seven innings of three-hit ball to improve to 3-1. Martin and Garrett Jones each had three hits for the Pirates.

Perhaps most surprising about the Pirates successes: They've come without big contributions from franchise player Andrew McCutchen, who didn't play Sunday and is in the middle of a 2-for-26 slump. Overall, he's hitting .216.

Tony Cingrani continues to impress: Tony Cingrani has proven to be much more than a stopgap for the Cincinnati Reds. The young pitcher, called up to replace injured star Johnny Cueto, was stellar again Sunday.

He struck out 11 batters and didn't give up a run in six innings — allowing only two hits in the Reds 5-2 win over the Washington Nationals. He even managed to pull off the four-strikeouts-in-one-inning trick in the fourth (a strikeout and wild pitch put Denard Span on base). It's rare, but not as rare as you might think. It happened eight times last season.

Here's one more bit of trivia: Cingrani is now one of five active pitchers who struck out 11 and didn't allow a run in one of the first six games of his career. The others? Mariano Rivera, Oliver Perez, Matt Harvey and Matt Moore.

KKKKKKKKKKKKershaw: From one young ace-in-the-making to one of baseball's top aces — Clayton Kershaw did one better than Cingrani in strikeouts Sunday, K'ing 12 batters as his Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0. At one point, Kershaw retired 18 straight as part of a dominant eight-inning performance. The Dodgers, meanwhile, got both their runs on solo homers from Carl Crawford.


Yankees 3, Toronto 2: The Yankees get home runs from Brennan Boesch and Lyle Overbay to complete the sweep of Blue Jays.

Marlins 6, Cubs 4: Hide! Giancarlo Stanton is awake and starting to hit homers. Two more Sunday.

Phillies 5, Mets 1: Ryan Howard's pinch-hit double helps Cole Hamels get his first win of the season.

Red Sox 6, Houston 1: In a solid return from injury, John Lackey gets first win since 2011.

Royals 9, Indians 0 (Game 1): Jeremy Guthrie improves to 3-0 after 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

Indians 10, Royals 3 (Game 2): Indians get revenge, led by Mike Aviles who drove in five runs.

Rays 8, White Sox 3: David Price gets first win of the year, despite argument with umpire.

Twins 5, Rangers 0: Kevin Correia throws eight scoreless innings to bring the Twins to 11-10.

A's 9, Orioles 8: In his first game back from the disabled list, Yoenis Cespedes homers to tie game in the ninth. A's win on errant throw in the 10th.

D-backs 4, Rockies 2: Young Patrick Corbin improves to 3-0.

Padres 6, Giants 4: The Padres, powered by Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Alexi Amarista, sweep the G-men.

Mariners 2, Angels 1: Solo homers from Jason Bay and Michael Morse push Mariners past Angels.

Tigers 8, Braves 3: Miguel Cabrera hits a three-run homer as Tigers sweep Braves.

''When you see guys hit balls that hard, that's pretty fun to watch. It takes that pressure off everybody. Everybody is, 'OK, we can relax now. I don't have to carry the weight of the offense.' When he's going good, we have a chance to do some damage.' — Marlins manager Mike Redmond on Giancarlo Stanton, who had two home runs Sunday.

That's three in two days after a 64 at-bat homerless streak to start the year.

Michael Morse is pumped after hitting an eighth-inning go-ahead home run to help the Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels, 2-1.

• By hitting Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman with pitches on Sunday, Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister increased his lead as the pitcher who has hit the most batters this season. He has eight, which is twice as many as the next guys on the list: A.J. Burnett, Trevor Cahill and Roberto Hernandez.

• The Red Sox have matched their franchise-high for April wins. They're at 18, which is how many they won in 1998 and 2003.

• By beating the Giants 6-4 on Sunday, the Padres swept San Francisco in a three-game series for the first time since 2010.

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