Bucs' offense explodes as Pirates cruise

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Nate McLouth is off to the kind of start that most major league hitters can only envy. So good, it's even drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

McLouth, dropped a spot in Pittsburgh's order to get more opportunities to produce runs, homered twice while driving in three runs and Zach Duke won for the first time in nearly a year as the Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants 12-6 on Tuesday night.

Duke (1-2) was winless in six starts this season and 12 games since June 12 before taking a shutout into the seventh inning. He lost that onDan Ortmeier's RBI double, and wound up being charged with three runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings -- his longest start since lasting eight innings in a 3-0 win over the Mets on Sept. 17, 2006.

"It's been a little while," Duke said. "Early on, the key was keeping them off the scoreboard until we got on it and after that, it was keeping the momentum in our favor."

The Pirates' offense accomplished that. Manager John Russell flip-flopped the slumping Freddy Sanchez and streaking McLouth in his order and the move paid off as the two combined to get on base seven times, score four runs and drive in five.

"I think I'll use it again tomorrow," Russell said.

The two-homer game was McLouth's second this season and the third of his career. He also homered twice on April 27, against the Phillies in the Pirates' previous home game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McLouth is the first Pirates player to hit multiple homers in consecutive home games since Hall of Famer Kiner on Sept. 11 and 13, 1949.

"It comes eight, nine days apart, so it's not like it was two two-homer games in a row," McLouth said, downplaying the accomplishment.

Sanchez, the 2006 NL batting champion who began the game with a .222 average, went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and reached base four times while leading off. McLouth, one of the NL's biggest surprises this season, hit a two-run homer off Jonathan Sanchez during a three-run third inning and added a solo drive -- his ninth -- against reliever Brad Hennessey in the sixth.

McLouth, a part-time outfielder until this season, had three hits to jump his average to .333. Xavier Nady added a two-run double and now has 32 RBIs. Adam LaRoche hit a two-run homer in the fourth and has five of his 10 RBIs in his last three games.

"I haven't changed anything," said McLouth, who had 32 homers in 835 career at-bats until this season. "I've always hit a lot of doubles, and maybe it's a situation where I'm catching them [pitches] out in front a little more and they're getting up, but I've pretty much stayed the same."

So much for the drop to No. 2 in the batting order affecting him.

"I've hit there before, quite a bit in the minor leagues," said McLouth, who has 28 RBIs. "It opens up the right side of the infield when there's a runner on, which I like."

Jonathan Sanchez (2-2) had allowed only six earned runs in 29 2/3 innings while going 2-0 in his previous five starts, but was lifted during a three-run fifth inning that made it 8-0. He gave up seven runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings, with Hennessey surrendering another five runs and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings.

"He just had trouble getting the ball where he wanted and fell behind too much and made too many mistakes," manager Bruce Bochy said of his starter. "They took advantage of a lot of his mistakes."

Sanchez wasn't happy with what he said was a too-flat PNC Park mound.

"I was trying to adjust, but I was leaving the ball up a lot the whole game. That's why I got hit," Sanchez said. "That's the worst mound I've ever pitched [on]. It was flat."

The Pirates have won 11 of their last 13 against the Giants, who dropped their sixth in nine games overall. They are 0-2 in a stretch of six consecutive games against left-handed starters.

Duke was replaced by left-hander Sean Burnett, who gave up Jose Castillo's three-run homer in the eighth during his first major league appearance since Aug. 21, 2004. He needed elbow and shoulder operations after that, and spent most of the last two seasons rebuilding his arm strength.

Game notes
The Giants ended a streak of five consecutive one-run games. ... Pittsburgh had lost three of four and seven of 10. ... Castillo didn't homer in 221 at-bats with Pittsburgh last season. He hadn't homered in 450 at-bats until doing so April 30.