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4/18/2014 11:20 P.M. ET

With hard work, Volquez finding his stride

PITTSBURGH -- The reclamation of Edinson Volquez is starting to pay dividends for the Pirates. Volquez was signed in the offseason to a one-year, $5 million contract with the hopes that pitching coach Ray Searage could help him return to the form he flashed in his first year in Cincinnati in 2008, when he won 17 games with a 3.21 ERA and was named an All-Star.

Searage has a track record of helping veterans find their stride, including A.J. Burnett when he joined the Pirates two years ago and last season with lefty Francisco Liriano.

After a rough Spring Training in which he posted a 9.64 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP in five games (14 innings), Volquez has been solid. He won his first game in a Pirates uniform on Thursday night, tossing seven innings -- his longest outing of the season -- and allowing two runs on eight hits.

"I'm very proud of him," Searage said of Volquez. "He's really worked hard, especially when we started the season up here, too, and his bullpens have been so disciplined. It's really a pleasant surprise to watch how he goes to work in the 'pen to prepare for his next start.

In four games (three starts) Volquez is 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings.

"We've been working, and [the] two biggest changes are keeping my front side closed and stay tall on my back leg," Volquez said. "We've been doing a pretty good job with that, and everybody's been seeing now the way I've been pitching."

"He's making it happen," Searage said. "He's the one that's doing all the work; all the credit goes to him. The suggestions we put out there, he took it and he soaked it up like a sponge, and he's going to town right now."

Mercer gets spiked, nursing bruised ankle

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer exited Friday's 5-3 loss to the Brewers because of discomfort in his right ankle. He was replaced by Clint Barmes in the top of the fourth inning.

Mercer was spiked in his right ankle at second base in the third inning by the Brewers' Martin Maldonado, who had walked and was forced out at second base when Kyle Lohse tried to move him over with a bunt. Lohse was called safe at first.

Mercer remained in the game and singled in the bottom of the frame, but was limping badly on his way to first and didn't take the field for the fourth.

"He clipped me with his spikes," Mercer said after the game. "I wasn't cut. It's just a bad bruise. It is very sore. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Hurdle thinks Martin's well-suited for two-spot

PITTSBURGH -- Catcher Russell Martin was moved back into the second spot in the batting order, and the Pirates' offense perked up with 11 runs on Thursday night against Milwaukee.

"It worked out great," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He hit second probably more than anybody in Spring Training. In just about every game until the last week he hit second, and I started if off just because I wanted him to get the extra at-bat early -- he was only catching five innings. Then you start watching it, and I'm watching the at-bats, how he's starting to block the ball off, he's hitting the ball to the bigger part of the park. He hit three or four home runs in Spring Training to right field."

In Friday's 5-3 loss to the Brewers, Martin hit from the two-spot again. He drove in a pair of runs with a groundout in the first and a single in the third, and he finished the night 2-for-4 with a walk.

"We didn't get out of the chute quite the way we wanted," said Hurdle. "[Pirates bench coach] Jeff Banister and I talked -- [Martin is] a backyard ballplayer, I think you saw an approach from the first at-bat. That ball was squared up and hit to center, and he's on base four times, a couple walks. We'll see where he takes it, but anybody that can swing the bat a little bit and get on base in front of [Andrew] McCutchen, that's where we need to get him up in that two-spot."

"I definitely feel strong at the plate," Martin said. "I feel like I'm seeing the ball well, even early this year. I've lined out more than a few times. As long as I'm getting good, solid contact at the plate and putting the ball in play and I'm swinging at pitches I want to swing at, I feel good about it. Sometimes you can't really control the results, where the guys are playing you and stuff like that, but as far as how I feel, that's what is important, and I feel confident at the plate. I'm seeing the ball well, and I think I'm going to have a good year this year."

Worth noting

• The Pirates have homered 19 times in their last nine games and entered Friday's action leading all National League teams with 23 home runs this season. The Los Angeles Angels lead all Major League teams with 24.

• The Pirates scored nine of their 11 runs Thursday night after the sixth inning. Overall this season, the Bucs have scored 37 of their 68 runs in the seventh inning or later (54 percent) and have outscored their opponents 37-12 in those frames.

George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.