PITTSBURGH -- Fans behind the Pirates' dugout rose to their feet a little earlier than usual in the middle of the seventh inning. They wanted to congratulate the Bucs' starter on a job well done.
Edinson Volquez allowed just one hit and struck out seven as the Pirates secured another victory with key pieces sidelined, downing the Marlins, 7-2, on Thursday night at PNC Park. The victory lifted the Pirates to eight games above .500 (61-53), matching a season best, and it marked their sixth home series win in a row.
Volquez credited the seven punchouts -- which tied a season-best -- to getting ahead in the count and being on the same page with catcher Russell Martin. He attributed the overall quality of his start to his heater.
"I had good control of my fastball. There was a lot of movement on my fastball," the right-hander said. "That was good for me, because I could keep the ball down and get a lot of groundballs. That was nice to get ahead in the count all the time and stay aggressive."
The outing was Volquez's longest since he threw a one-run complete game against the Cardinals on July 10 -- also the date of his last win. Volquez walked the first Marlins batter he saw and issued three total free passes in the outing. But he faced the minimum through three innings and carried a no-hitter into the fifth, which was broken up by Donovan Solano's one-out grounder through the left side.
"I thought his pace and his rhythm was as good as we've seen all year, especially with men on base," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Volquez completed a trio of Pittsburgh starts in the series that all went seven innings, following suit to what Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke were able to do against Miami. In the series, the three starters had a 1.71 ERA.
The offense was also able to put up a repeat performance of Wednesday night, even with a makeshift order that was again without Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.
The Bucs figured out Marlins lefty Brian Flynn -- who was making his first start of the season -- the second time through the order, scoring three in the fourth and chasing the prospect after four-plus innings. Gregory Polanco delivered the big blow in the fourth with a bases-loaded single to left that scored two.
"They were throwing him down and away. He stayed on a ball that was out over the plate and covered it," Hurdle said of Polanco, who had four RBIs on the night. "I think it's making more sense to him now, he's more understanding of what they're trying to do. And even with the long arms, he's staying short to the ball. Short to it, long through it."
The opposite-field hit was just the start of Polanco's night. He added a two-run double in the eighth inning. And he got to show off another tool in the fifth.
With two on and one out, Polanco made a grab in foul territory while reaching over the railing near the right-field seats. Off balance, Polanco twisted his 6-foot-4 frame and made a laser-sharp throw to nab Jarrod Saltalamacchia at third and end the inning.
"You have to prepare," Polanco said. "I didn't know he was going to run, but I heard my guys yelling, 'He's going.' I turned right away and just threw it."
The Pirates added two runs in the bottom of the fifth and another pair in the eighth. They've scored in five innings in their last two games, posting a crooked number each time. Pittsburgh has put up a seven spot in both games in which McCutchen, Walker and Alvarez have been unavailable, and Thursday's victory kept the club a half-game out in the National League Wild Card chase.
"At this point in the season, we've got a mentality that we're going to go play with what we got," Hurdle said. "It's about who we have, not who we don't have."
Before the game went final, however, Jordy Mercer was part of a frightening moment.
In the seventh inning, the shortstop, who had three hits on the night, hit a line drive that struck Marlins reliever Dan Jennings in the left side of the head. Mercer could only crouch and look on as Jennings was evaluated.
Mercer gave Jennings a pat on the back before the reliever was carted off and gave a wave to the crowd. Jennings suffered a concussion on the play, and he spent the night in a Pittsburgh hospital while the Marlins traveled to Cincinnati.
"You don't want anything like that," Mercer said. "I had the best seat in the house, basically, and it wasn't pretty. I'm going to keep him in my prayers."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.