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Glendon Rusch calmed some nerves Sunday with a strong performance against Pittsburgh, keeping him in the Cubs' rotation at least for the time being.
Rusch earned his first victory in three starts in a 7-3 win over the Pirates, helping the Cubs take two of three at PNC Park before they headed to Los Angeles with a 7-4 record.
Todd Walker and Aramis Ramirez homered for the Cubs, who won for the 13th time in their last 15 games in Pittsburgh.
"This is a good ballpark to hit in," Ramirez said. "The wind's not a factor here like it is at Wrigley Field."
Rusch was under the gun on Sunday after giving up six home runs and eight runs overall in his first two starts against Cincinnati. Like Jerome Williams on Saturday night, Rusch came through with the pressure on, holding the Pirates scoreless for the first five innings before tiring in the sixth, when he served up a three-run homer to Craig Wilson.
The Cubs gave Rusch some breathing room at the outset, scoring three in the first off Pirates starter Ian Snell. In what the Cubs hope will be a blueprint for first innings the rest of the season, Juan Pierre singled leading off, stole second and scored on Ramirez's single to give them a 1-0 lead. Walker followed with a two-run homer to right, his first of the season, on an 0-2 pitch and the Cubs were off and running.
"[Snell has] been told one, two, 200 times in the minor leagues that when it's 0-2, a ball in the middle of the plate is unacceptable," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
Snell settled down for the next four innings before Pierre singled again leading off the sixth. Cubs reserve Freddie Bynum, making his first start in right field with Jacque Jones out and Angel Pagan on the disabled list, reached on an infield hit, putting the two fastest Cubs on base.
Pierre's movement off second base appeared to rattle Snell, who promptly gave up a two-run double to Derrek Lee, ending his afternoon. Ramirez greeted reliever Matt Capps with a two-run shot, giving the Cubs a comfortable 7-0 lead.
"If we can get them going in the middle of the lineup and get Juan Pierre on base, we've got a chance to have a lot of stuff happening," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Wilson's homer in the sixth gave the Pirates some hope, but the Cubs' bullpen did its job, as it has been doing all season. With Rusch, Williams and rookie Sean Marshall all pitching well in Pittsburgh, the Cubs won't feel the need to rush Kerry Wood back.
Wood will throw a bullpen session in Los Angeles on Monday before the Cubs decide whether to have him continue rehabbing his arm in Mesa, Ariz., or go on a minor-league rehab stint.
Tribune news services contributed to this report.