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NYM@MIA: Alvarez hurls 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball

After an exhausting stretch of 18 games in 17 days following the All-Star break, the idea of Monday's off-day had to appeal to the Pirates.

"I knew it would be a challenge right out of the gate," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said after Sunday's 5-1 victory over Colorado, the Pirates' 11th win during that period. "We met the demands of the game. We went 11-7. What's done is done. We'll all enjoy the day off, the night off, the day off, and we'll get ready for business as usual against the Marlins. And we're going to face three good young pitchers again."

The Pirates are going to start a pretty good young pitcher of their own in Tuesday's series opener, with lefty Jeff Locke set to take the mound against Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez.

Every time Locke takes the mound for the Pirates, though, the same questions start to surface. When is he going to come back down to earth? When will regression start to take its toll on his impressive numbers?

Locke has been able to avoid it for most of the season, but his last two starts have been among his worst this season. He walked six batters the last time he faced the Marlins, then the Cardinals roughed him up for four runs and 10 hits on Wednesday. The Pirates' All-Star lefty will look to get back on track against the Marlins at PNC Park.

Hurdle has talked previously about limiting the workloads of Locke and Gerrit Cole down the stretch, but he admitted Sunday that he's less likely to hold back Locke's innings count simply because of the time he's spent in the Majors -- and his success this year certainly doesn't hurt his case, either.

"His time in the game gives him an edge," Hurdle said.

Alvarez, meanwhile, is looking to build on an impressive July, his first month in the Majors this season after spending the first three months on the 60-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Alvarez has a 2.61 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in six starts this season, but he's been even better than those numbers indicate over his past four outings.

In his past 27 innings, Alvarez owns a 1.33 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and four quality starts. Catcher Jeff Mathis, who was behind the plate for Alvarez's last excellent outing against the Pirates, has been impressed with what he's seen from the young right-hander.

"It's fun to see him develop as a pitcher," Mathis said. "To really pitch well and then throw the ball the way he has, give us the innings he has given us, it's awesome. It's fun to watch."

Marlins: Rotation on a roll
• Since his season debut on July 4, Alvarez has allowed three runs or fewer in five of his six starts and two runs or fewer in four outings. Of course, Alvarez isn't the only Miami starter locked in right now.

Since June 16, Marlins starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 38 of 43 games and two runs or fewer in 30 of those 38. They've put together eight straight quality starts, with the most recent coming Sunday from Nathan Eovaldi, who surrendered one run over seven innings and suffered a loss.

On top of that, the Marlins' staff hasn't surrendered a home run in a club-record 12 straight games entering Tuesday's series opener.

• Christian Yelich extended his hitting streak to five games with a base hit in Sunday's 2-0 loss. He's hitting .381 with two doubles and four runs scored during that stretch and has reached base safely in 12 of his 13 big league games.

Pirates: Melancon leads dominant relief corps
• A.J. Burnett gave the Pirates bullpen an extra, early day off Sunday, throwing a complete game in Pittsburgh's win. But the Bucs' relief corps has hardly shown signs of slowing up, racking up a National League-leading 40 saves after posting only 45 a year ago. Leading the charge lately has been right-hander Mark Melancon, who owns a 0.75 ERA in the 12 ninth innings he's pitched this season.

That figure is even lower than Melancon's 0.86 overall ERA, the lowest among all NL relievers. He's given up only one run in his last 22 games dating back to June 7.

• Right-hander James McDonald, on the disabled list since early May due to shoulder discomfort, was scheduled to begin throwing off the mound in a side session Monday.

Worth noting
• Following Sunday'svictory, the Pirates' pitching staff has held the opposition to two runs or fewer 50 times in 111 games.

• After a brutal 13-41 start to the season, the Marlins have gone 30-26 since May 31.

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