PITTSBURGH (AP) - By his own admission, Neil Walker’s homecoming to Pittsburgh a year ago was a bit of a headache. Relentless requests for tickets, for a pass to watch batting practice, for his time.
The New York Mets second baseman knew what to expect this time around. So he exhaled and relaxed, then took aim at the right field wall he knows so well.
Walker homered twice to the seats in right field, Jacob deGrom came within two outs of his second career complete game and the Mets had little trouble with the Pirates in an 8-1 victory on Friday night.
“It was nice to be able to come today and not worry about who needs this and that, who to accommodate,” said Walker, who grew up in Pittsburgh and played seven seasons for the Pirates before being traded to New York in December, 2015.
Walker hit a two-run shot off Chad Kuhl (1-5) in the third and added a solo blast to right-center in the fifth in his first multihomer game in his 425th appearance at PNC Park. The second baseman finished 3 for 5 with four RBI to push his career total to 501.
“I’ve always enjoyed hitting in this ballpark, especially as a left-handed hitter,” Walker said after boosting his season home run total to six. “You can lift the ball and hit that wall or find a way over it.”
DeGrom (4-1) became the first Mets starter to get an out in the eighth inning since last June, pitching 8 1/3 innings and giving up only a solo home run by Gregory Polanco to go with 10 strikeouts and one walk. DeGrom also had two of New York’s 12 hits.
The Mets pushed deGrom’s scheduled start on Thursday back 24 hours due to concerns over poor weather in New York. DeGrom responded by overwhelming the Pirates while throwing 80 of his 118 pitches for strikes.
“To be able to go out there tonight and kind of give (the bullpen) the night off, it was a nice thing to be able to do,” deGrom said.
DeGrom improved to 4-0 in his last six starts and lowered his ERA to 3.23. Fernando Salas got the final two outs for New York, and the Mets ended a franchise-record run of 26 consecutive games using at least three relievers.
Noah Syndergaard was the only Mets starter to pitch at least 7 1/3 innings in a game in 2016, doing so June 15 against the Pirates. New York had 12 such outings in the regular season on its way to the World Series in 2015.
NOT SO KUHL
Time may be running out for Kuhl to stay in Pittsburgh’s rotation. His ERA sits at 6.29 after struggling to handle New York’s heavily left-handed lineup. Lefties came in hitting .333 against Kuhl this season, and seven of the eight hits he allowed were to left-handed batters.
“It just felt like there wasn’t any life to the ball,” Kuhl said. “Hard but no life to it really. Just inconsistent. They hit some good pitches. Just one of those nights.”
MOVING ON DOWN
The Pirates bumped slumping star Andrew McCutchen from third in the lineup to sixth, the first time in his career the five-time All-Star hit below fifth. Pittsburgh is hoping the move will help kickstart McCutchen, who was benched for the final two games of a series in Atlanta and entered Friday hitting just .203 on the season and .163 in May. McCutchen went 1 for 4 to bump his average to .205.
New York sent struggling Rafael Montero to Triple-A Las Vegas and called up right-hander Tyler Pill. Montero is 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA and gave up three runs in three innings of a loss to San Diego on Thursday. Pill is 3-1 with a 1.96 ERA in Triple-A this season.
To make room for Pill on the 40-man roster, New York moved pitcher Seth Lugo from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list.
Mets: OF Yoenis Cespedes (left hamstring strain) went 0 for 2 with a walk and a run scored in a rehab appearance for Class A St. Lucie. Cespedes played six innings in left field before being removed. … LHP Steven Matz (elbow inflammation) is scheduled to make a rehab start for Triple-A Las Vegas this weekend. Lugo (right elbow) will make a rehab start for Double-A Binghamton this weekend.
Mets: Zack Wheeler (3-2, 3.74 ERA) will try to keep his hot May going on Saturday. Wheeler is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts this month. This is his first career start against Pittsburgh.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole (2-5, 3.36 ERA) is 1-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts at PNC Park this season. Cole gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings on Monday against Atlanta.
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