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PIT@WSH: Cole beats Nationals with pitching, hitting

Still hanging onto a 1 1/2-game lead in the ultra-competitive National League Central, the Pirates may have a golden opportunity to place a steadier hand on the division in a three-game set against the reeling Rockies.

After taking four of five from the second-place Cardinals, denied the sweep in a 13-0 rout Thursday night, Pittsburgh continues its 11-game homestand against a scuffling Colorado club that dropped four straight to the Braves in Atlanta.

While the Rockies' playoff chances have not completely evaporated, Atlanta's sweep pushed them eight games under .500 and eight games back in the NL West -- both season highs.

Many expected the Pirates to grab an outfielder before the non-waiver Trade Deadline to fortify a lineup that ranks in the bottom half of the league in several offense categories. But Wednesday passed without much noise in Pittsburgh, and manager Clint Hurdle said he's confident with the bats he already has.

"You look at it from the vein that you're going to gamble," Hurdle said. "And we have a safety net, and that safety net is existing players that are out there. And that's why you don't have to be insane.

"The guys, [Gaby] Sanchez, [Garrett] Jones, [Neil] Walker, you look around Russell Martin will be the first one to tell you he can do more. [Starling] Marte, I know he feels like he can add more. So collectively, it's not like anybody has to be the guy. They just think there's more success for them on the offensive side of the ball, especially with a little more consistency."

A Rockies offense that scored only five runs over the final three games against the Braves will try to reset against Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole. They might have to do it without an offensive centerpiece, as Carlos Gonzalez missed his fourth game in the last week Thursday due to a nagging middle finger sprain.

Despite allowing three runs or less in his last five starts, Cole will be looking for just his second win over that span.

Jhoulys Chacin will try for his fifth consecutive quality start Thursday. He surrendered three runs over seven innings in a no-decision against the Brewers Sunday.

Rockies: Walt offers praise for Hurdle
If not for Clint Hurdle, Rockies manager Walt Weiss might have stayed out of the big leagues for good following his retirement in 2000.

Hurdle hired Weiss as a special assistant after he took over as the Rockies' skipper in 2002, a role the organization created because Weiss didn't feel like he had sufficient experience to take a more conventional position on his staff.

In the midst of his first season as a Major League manager, Weiss said his time working alongside the Pirates manager was essential in preparing him for his current job.

"A lot of it was just I got to watch him do his thing, manage and how he handled all the aspects of managing," Weiss said Thursday. "If I wasn't around that and didn't do what I did for seven years, I don't know if I'd be able to do what I'm doing now. Certainly I owe a whole lot to Clint. Clint's the one that brought me back in the game."

Pirates pitching continues to set pace
More than 100 games into the season, the Pirates' pitching staff still ranks as the best in the Majors.

While some questioned whether Pittsburgh could maintain its early-season numbers, Bucs pitchers have proven more than pretenders. Even after serving up 11 earned runs in Thursday's loss, the Pirates staff leads the Majors in ERA (3.12) and hits allowed (821).

And it's not just the starters who have carried the Pirates to the top of their division. Mark Melancon's 0.88 ERA is lowest among NL relievers and the right-hander has allowed one run in his last 21 appearances.

Worth noting
• Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez finished July with seven homers, second most in the league. His 27 homers lead the NL, putting him just ahead of Gonzalez's 26.

• Chacin has struggled in four career starts against the Pirates, going 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA.

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