Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez hit his first home run since June 3 on Monday. The three-run blast in the third inning helped propel the Pirates to an 8-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Now, the Pirates are at the .500-mark for the first time since June 14.

"A lot of the times, people have been taking their chances with Pedro, and he's an important part of our offense," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle told Pirates.com. "We need him to fire. We need him to drive in runs, and that was very good to see from him tonight. Three-run homers always play well."

Alvarez himself hasn't played very well over the past week. He is just 4 for 23 over the last eight games, hitting just.206 for the previous 10.

Finding his power stroke will be key for the Pirates (38-38) if they hope to continue to win games, make it completely over the .500 plateau and try to win the National League Central Division.

Alvarez has 12 home runs and 38 RBIs with a .720 on-base plus slugging percentage. His 73 strikeouts ranks 14th in the National League — he added two more to that mark in Monday's win.

Still, the Pirates are playing solid, all-round baseball which has helped them reach the .500-mark.

Pittsburgh totaled 10 hits on Monday with Andrew McCutchen leading the way with three hits and two RBIs. Every player in the starting lineup recorded a hit except for first baseman Ike Davis.

Edinson Volquez's strong pitching performance kept the Rays at bay. Over eight innings, Volquez allowed five hits, one run and struck out one to improve his record to 5-6 in his first season in the Pirates' rotation. Volquez has a 4.35 earned run average on the year with a total of 56 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP in 15 starts.

Helping the Pirates stay on the winning track will be the addition of second baseman Neil Walker, who is returning from a 15-day stint on the disabled list.

Walker went down with an emergency appendectomy on June 8. He was batting .280 with 11 homers — career-high numbers for this time of the year — when he suffered the sudden injury. Currently, Walker is second in the National League All-Star voting for second baseman. The Pittsburgh native trails Philadelphia Philies star Chase Utley by nearly 8,000 votes.

McCutchen looks to be a sure starter in the All-Star Game, which takes place in July in Minnesota. He is holding down 2,461,722 votes and could be the first Pirate voted in to be a starter since outfielder Jason Bay in 2006 when the game was played in Pittsburgh.

Things are bright for the Pirates right now. Another win and some surging votes could spell for even brighter times in the day ahead.

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