ST. LOUIS -- Edinson Volquez is good at pitching. He is even better at keeping a promise.
When boyhood pal and fellow Pirates starter Francisco Liriano landed on the disabled list with a strained left oblique on June 11, Volquez pledged to assume the leadership role of the 2013 ace.
From then through Thursday's complete-game six-hitter in the Pirates' 9-1 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Volquez is 5-1 with an ERA of 2.51. In winning four consecutive starts for the first time in his 10-year career, Volquez has allowed three earned runs in 30 innings (0.90 ERA).
"He's done a real good job. I'm very happy to see it," said Liriano, who will make his return on Sunday.
"Tell you the truth. I'm glad he's coming back. He's the true ace," said Volquez.
Timing of foes' injuries have benefited Bucs
ST. LOUIS -- Major League players and personnel will never gloat over, or even acknowledge, other teams' injuries. The opposition always remains big league, and you still have to go out and beat them. Plus, they recognize their own injuries could be a misstep away.
That said, the Pirates have already taken considerable advantage of other teams' mishaps, and they continue to get that opportunity.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is missing the final game of this series, as well as at least the majority of the season, with upcoming surgery for a torn right thumb ligament suffered in Wednesday's game. Cincinnati -- the Bucs' next stop -- unbelievably also just lost second baseman Brandon Phillips to the exact same injury to the left thumb.
The Reds are also without Joey Votto, back on the disabled list for the second time this season with a strained left quad.
"Just going over the names ... the name power involved is probably more significant [than we saw last season]," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "Hope we can stay away from adding to that. Injuries challenge your depth."
The Bucs haven't been exempt. Gerrit Cole is on the DL for the second time within a month, and Francisco Liriano will return Sunday from a month's absence. Wandy Rodriguez's knee injury was behind the problems that led to his release at the end of May. And catcher Russell Martin sat out nearly a month with a hamstring strain.
However, there is no question the Bucs have been on the fortunate end of the injuries see-saw:
• In May, they took three of a four-game series from a Washington team that lined up without Bryce Harper (left thumb), Ryan Zimmerman (right thumb) and Adam LaRoche (right quad).
• Later in May, they also took three of four in Los Angeles -- still the last series the Dodgers have lost to a National League team -- with A.J. Ellis (right ankle) and Carl Crawford (left ankle) absent.
• More recently, the Bucs took three of four in PNC Park from a Mets team without David Wright, who had to be sent back to New York for tests on his sore left shoulder.
Regarding the long schedule's ebb-and-flow, Hurdle often points out "you just have to meet the challenges of the game, and play the hand you're dealt."
The plain fact is, the Bucs have frequently been dealt a pretty good hand.
Slump buster? Polanco gets even with countryman
ST. LOUIS -- It is too early to have a very good idea of how well Gregory Polanco adjusts; the give-and-take between him and Major League pitchers is just getting underway.
But we do know he gets even.
Polanco is dealing with his first extended "slump," entering Thursday night's series finale with the Cardinals with three hits in his last 17 at-bats. A lot of those outs have come on offspeed pitches, the ultimate test for any young hitter.
However, those three hits came in as many at-bats Tuesday night, against Carlos Martinez.
That was the first meeting between the Dominican Republic countrymen since Dec. 28 -- when Martinez bounced a 99-mph fastball off Polanco's right knee, knocking him out of a Winter Leagues game.
Polanco shrugged off that incident.
"I actually stayed in that game after it happened and came out in the seventh inning," Polanco said. "We were leading, so I left just to be careful."
Six-and-a-half months later, Polanco slapped all of Martinez's repertoire -- the hits came on a change, a curve, a 96-mph heater -- all over Busch Stadium,. Just to make a point?
• Josh Harrison should again be BMOC (Big Man Of Cincinnati) when he returns to his hometown for the weekend set with the Reds. The former University of Cincinnati star goes home as the Bearcats' first Major League All-Star alumnus since Kevin Youkilis (2008-09 and '11).
• Jaff Decker, recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis to give the Bucs an extra bat until the All-Star break, was on a July fire with the Indians: .344 in nine games this month, with five extra-base hits (four doubles and a triple).
First number, last word
17: Home runs by Andrew McCutchen against the Cincinnati Reds, the Bucs' final pre-All-Star Game opposition, since the start of the 2009 season -- the most of anyone.
"I can pull up a bunch of swings-and-misses on changeups. I don't think we saw that with such regularity last season. The changeup has been such a good, deceptive pitch. And some of the fastballs have tied people up inside." -- Hurdle, on the new M.O. behind the effectiveness of left-hander Jeff Locke, who will lead off the weekend series in Cincinnati.
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.