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Confident Pirates gradually working way back from slow start

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A slow start didn't rattle the Pittsburgh Pirates, who never stopped believing in themselves or the way they're built to win.

Manager Clint Hurdle's team has quietly compiled the NL's best record since May 2, rebounding from a poor opening month of the season to climb back over .500 for the first time since mid-April.

And with Andrew McCutchen, last year's league MVP, continuing to perform at an All-Star level, Neil Walker back in the lineup after recovering from an appentectomy, and Gerrit Cole rejoining the pitching rotation following a stint on the disabled list due to right shoulder fatigue, there's reason to believe the Pirates can contend for a playoff spot again.

Hurdle resisted any temptation there may have been to make major adjustments when things didn't go well early and the Pirates found themselves languishing near the bottom of the NL Central standings.

"We've been steadfast. There is an inclination in life and sports, in relationships, and when something goes wrong you change right away. When you continue to change right away and be re-active to everything that happens right away, what you get good at is change," Hurdle said.

"We believe in what we believe in. We believe there's a certain way we need to play the game. Things we need to get done on the mound. Things we need to get done on defence. The way we need to approach our at-bats," Hurdle added. "We've been mindful of that. We've worked hard every day to get a little bit better. And I think over the course of time, that has happened."

The Pirates (42-40) remain in fourth place, but will enter July feeling a lot better about themselves after going 17-10 in June.

They're 32-22 since falling eight games under .500 on May 1, with McCutchen ranking among the NL leaders in hits, RBIs, extra-base hits, total bases, slugging percentage and batting average during the month of June.

He's had help, too, including when Hurdle has gone with Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and McCutchen in the top three spots in the batting order. The three have batted a combined .343 (46 of 134) with six doubles, two homers, 22 RBIs and 24 runs scored in the 10 games they've been the 1-2-3 hitters.

"It's been really fun to watch," Hurdle said.

"Offensively, we've gotten better as the season has gone on," the manager added. "This has been as good a stretch as we've had all year, as far as team batting average, on-base percentage, pitches seen per at-bat, any kind of indicator you want to look at."

Five things to follow in baseball this week:

AMAZING KERSHAW: What a month of June for Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who went 6-0 with an 0.82 ERA, 61 strikeouts and the first no-hitter of his career in June. He also will carry a career-best streak of 28 consecutive innings into his first start of July.

FADING FAST: As hot as Kershaw's been lately, Toronto's Mark Buehrle has been just the opposite. The left-hander won 10 of his first 11 decisions, however Sunday's loss to his old team, the White Sox, was his fourth straight over five starts he's made since he last won, June 1 vs. Kansas City.

GEHRIG TRIBUTE: Major League Baseball will honour Lou Gehrig on Friday, the 75th anniversary of the Hall of Famer's emotional "luckiest man" farewell speech. A video featuring a first baseman from each team reciting a line from the speech Gehrig made at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, will air at each ballpark. Gehrig was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when he made speech. He died two years later from ALS at age 37.

UP NEXT: San Francisco's Tim Lincecum makes his first start since pitching the second no-hitter of his career, facing St. Louis at home on Tuesday. The two-time NL Cy Young winner is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA in seven career starts against the Cardinals.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Tampa Bay pitchers have set a club-record for strikeouts in a month with 278 so far in June, pulling within nine of breaking the major league mark of 286, set by the Cubs in August 2002. The AL record is 280, established by the Tigers and Indians in May 2013. The Rays close the month Monday night against the Yankees.

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