For as strong as the Pirates' rotation has been this year, manager Clint Hurdle has had to piece it together.
Pittsburgh has used 11 starters but has still compiled the best staff ERA (3.24) and opponent's batting average (.231) in baseball entering Thursday. One consistent has been Jeff Locke, in his first season as a full-time big leaguer.
Locke missed his July 14 start with lower back stiffness, but he appears to be past that. He tossed six innings, allowing one run on one hit and four walks with six strikeouts Sunday against the Reds to improve to 9-2. The 25-year-old has lost only once in his last 18 starts.
Friday night in Miami, Locke will take on the Marlins and Henderson Alvarez in the first of a three-game set.
"The back's great," Locke said after his last outing. "Just going back to last week, pretty much proved to myself today that I stand by the decision that was made by the club and myself [to skip a start]. It's more important to miss one start to feel healthy and hopefully feel good the rest of the season."
Alvarez has made four starts since missing the first half of the season with right shoulder inflammation. He's improved each time out since his debut on July 4, and he threw seven scoreless innings in Milwaukee on Sunday.
Miami's pitching has been strong in its own right this season, especially in the last month. Marlins starters have given up three runs or less in 29 of their last 33 games.
"Our pitchers have done a nice job, even in Milwaukee where we just didn't score any runs," manager Mike Redmond said. "Our pitchers have done a great job of keeping us in ballgames. It's been fun to watch these guys go out there and improve and continue to work on their pitch selection."
Marlins: Ozuna likely done for the season
Marcell Ozuna was optioned to Double-A Jacksonville on Monday, saw a hand specialist on Wednesday and the Marlins announced on Thursday he's likely out for the year.
The 22-year-old outfielder jammed his thumb making a diving catch on Monday against the Rockies. The play resulted in a ligament tear and an avulsion fracture in his left thumb. It will require surgery.
"It's highly doubtful and improbable that you'll see him again this season," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "It's a minimum six to eight weeks, and then you have to ramp up from there. So we're going to run out of time this season."
Ozuna had a .265/.303/.389 slash line in 70 games this season. He was originally called up in late April when Giancarlo Stanton went on the disabled list.
Pirates: Harrison delivers in second start of year
Josh Harrison has been shuffled between Triple-A Indianapolis and Pittsburgh all season, and he finally got a chance as more than a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement on Thursday.
The 26-year-old utility man went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer, his first of the year, in the sixth. He then tied the game in the ninth with a two-run single with two outs and two strikes. Harrison has appeared in 19 games for the Pirates this year, but he started just his second on Thursday.
Jose Tabata, the Bucs' usual right fielder, was hit in the right forearm by a 95-mph fastball from Washington's Fernando Abad on Wednesday. Hurdle said before the game Tabata could likely swing a bat Thursday, but would have trouble throwing. Tabata pinch-hit with the bases loaded in the ninth and struck out before Harrison's single.
• In each of their last five games, Marlins starters have gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or less. Alvarez started that run.
• The Pirates and Marlins will meet for the first time this season on Friday. The clubs will meet for another three-game set on Aug. 6-8 in Pittsburgh.
• Miami is 7-4 against Pittsburgh since the start of the 2011 season.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.