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Success follows team meeting, Martin's return

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PITTSBURGH -- An unmistakable symptom of the Pirates' struggles from mid-April to mid-May was short-winded starting pitching. Consequently, the wind under their wings since the calendar flipped to June has been the length they have been getting out of their rotation.

The contrast has really been remarkable. For an extended stretch, the Bucs could not get any starter past the fifth. Now, seven- and eight-inning starts are commonplace.

Manager Clint Hurdle attributed the switch -- beyond the notable arrivals of Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to replace the released Wandy Rodriguez and injured Francisco Liriano -- to a little group therapy.

"We met, and revisited our core convictions as a pitching staff, reminded them what we need to do -- going to spots, strike one, downhill angle, getting people out quick," Hurdle said. "When you don't get results you want, you get on your heels a little bit. They found their way back to being bold in everything they do. And when you start getting results, that helps the confidence."

Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage boiled the difference down to a simpler notion: Russell Martin's absence for a month with a strained left hamstring injury.

"He knows our pitchers so well, they don't have to do any thinking on the mound, just follow his lead," Searage said. "When Russell was out, they were a little unsure, hesitant, were wasting too many pitches."

No disrespect to Tony Sanchez, who was the primary catcher during Martin's absence, nor to backup Chris Stewart. They simply had not had the prior opportunities to get inside the pitchers' heads as completely.

In Sanchez's 14 starts from April 26 to May 22, Pirates starters averaged five innings, making it through the sixth four times.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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