PHILADELPHIA -- The one-two punch of Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan has played a large role in the Pirates' ascension into second place in the National League Central. Grilli entered Thursday afternoon having tossed three straight perfect innings, and Hanrahan sat alone in third in the NL with 19 saves.
Granted, a 5-4 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park could have been smoother, but the fact they -- along with the entire bullpen -- held it together long enough for A.J. Burnett to pick up his ninth win meant something as well for a team that has a huge three-game set starting on Friday at St. Louis.
Combined, Grilli and Hanrahan allowed one run and three hits over the last two innings as Hanrahan (3-0, 2.10 ERA) picked up his 20th save in 22 opportunities, securing the Pirates a split in the four-game series. Grilli (2.05 ERA in 32 appearances) allowed a leadoff home run to Hunter Pence and had runners on first and second, but worked out of a jam in the eighth.
Hanrahan gave up a leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins, before Pence popped out to end the game.
"There was some grit out there today," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Yeah, it was impressive."
"They've been great all year," said first baseman Casey McGehee, whose three-run homer was the key to a five-run first inning. "I have all the faith in the world when we get to those guys with a lead. They've been that good all year."
Newcomer Sutton inserted into leadoff spot
PHILADELPHIA -- Clint Hurdle is open to suggestion when it comes to the leadoff spot in his lineup. So much so that on Thursday, the Pirates manager inserted Drew Sutton into that role just two days after the 28-year-old made his debut with the organization.
"You look at the numbers of our leadoff hitters, that's not what we need," Hurdle said. "I mean, a .260 on-base percentage [for Alex Presley], a .288 on-base percentage [for Jose Tabata]. It's tough. And it's hard on them, because they want to do better, but this is the Major Leagues. It's not the try hard leagues. We've given both of them a number of at-bats, and you have to be able to find your way and produce as well."
Presley has hit just .244 in 19 games since he was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, and Tabata, who is hitting .226, has struggled both at the plate and in the field at times, something that Hurdle believes may have to do with overcompensation after missing half of the 2011 season due to a left quad injury.
"[Tabata] either needs to work through it on the field here, or as we've talked about, the next option is the one we visited with Presley, which is to send him down," Hurdle said. "It can help him. It was able to help Alex for a period of time. He's getting some more challenges.
"It's like a pitcher that's afraid to hurt his shoulder. It's over and he needs to play. It's time."
Hurdle praises McKenry for keeping it simple
PHILADELPHIA -- Clint Hurdle understands that in today's culture, the more information, the better. At the same time, the veteran Pirates manager thinks that at times, the availability of stats, techniques, etc., can cause an overload in a player's mind.
"I don't see players today taking the time to get to know themselves," Hurdle said. "They'll grab at anything if they think it will help them. More often than not, it's information, because that's the generation that's grown up. They are not capable of processing everything."
Hurdle has been thrilled with the recent production of backup catcher Michael McKenry, who is 7-for-11 with a double, two home runs and six RBIs in his last three games.
"Michael talks about keeping it simple," Hurdle said. "Michael has been saying that for a year and a half, since I knew him in Colorado.
"It's finding that one thing that does click that matters. I think in this industry and in all sports, what we continue to do is make excuses for players. You know what, this is the life they've chosen. This is the job and profession they've chosen, and they need to figure things out along the way. Really, they need to trust themselves, and that's the hard part. I spent a winter working with Michael on his swing, and again, sometimes it just clicks."
The Pirates entered Thursday's game 14-10 in June. Coupled with a 15-13 record in May, they entered the afternoon tilt with the Phillies with an opportunity to win at least 15 games in consecutive months for the first time since July and August 1997.
Bucs center fielder Andrew McCutchen has hit all 14 of his home runs since May 8. He leads the National League in home runs over that period of time.
Mike Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.