The Pirates took on Cincinnati in a doubleheader at PNC Park. They played a pair of close games and came away with a split.
The Pirates play two basic types of losses. In one, they stumble and bumble through a “Can anybody here play this game?” type of effort, generally looking like a cricket team that wandered into the wrong venue. In the other, they make a game of it, but just can’t get a couple pitches or defensive plays, or a hit or two, when they need it. Game one, a 4-2 loss, was the second type.
Steve Brault wasn’t especially good or bad, which is pretty Pirate-y by itself. He only walked two, but he fell behind a lot and needed 96 pitches to get through four and two-third innings. And he was repeatedly undermined by Ben & Derry’s MLB-worst defense.
In the top of the second, Brault fanned the first two hitters and hit the third. Then Josh Bell prolonged the inning by botching a grounder for the Pirates’ world-leading 36th error. A single put the Reds ahead.
More follies in the third. Following a pair of singles, a ground out and sacrifice fly brought in one run. Then Jesse Winker popped one into shallow center, looking disgusted as he headed to first because he knew it was a routine out. But Cole Tucker and Erik Gonzalez, either of whom could have caught the ball, both said, “I don’t take responsibility for anything,” and the ball dropped to make it 3-0.
The Pirates’ offense did more than its share of not coming through, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. A Gregory Polanco double put runners at second and third with nobody out in the second, but Josh Bell, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tucker managed not to get a run in.
The Pirates got both their runs in the third but, naturally, could have had more. With two on and two out, Colin Moran’s second single and Polanco’s second double each brought in a run. Josh Bell came up with runners on second and third for the second inning in a row, but struck out. (By the end of the day, Bell was in a 1-for-16 rut with seven strikeouts.)
In the fourth, things got back to normal. Tucker and Hayes started the inning with singles, but Jacob Stallings struck out and Gonzalez hit into a double play. The Pirates had only two baserunners in the last three innings, so they didn’t miss any more chances to miss chances.
Brault, meanwhile, gave up a dinger to Nick Castellanos to start the fifth, then left after a two-out walk. His final line: six hits, four runs, three earned runs, two walks, six strikeouts. Dovydas Neverauskas and Tyler Bashlor combined for two and a third scoreless innings.
In game two, which was a makeup of a game from Great American Ballpark, the Pirates were the visiting team. This time, they actually did make some plays and, for the first time in seven games, had no errors. The result was a 4-3 win.
Cody Ponce’s second start wasn’t bad. He went four, giving up just three hits and a walk. The only problem was, two of the three hits were dingerz. Eugenio Suarez hit one in the first, following the walk. Mike Moustakas hit the other in the fourth, after the Pirates had taken a 3-2 lead. Ponce fanned four and threw 46 of 71 pitches for strikes. The Pirates currently have five other starters, but it wouldn’t be awful to give Ponce some more starts.
At the plate, the Pirates looked like they were headed for more of the usual futility against Trevor Bauer. They got two on with one out in the first, but Moran hit into a double play. They couldn’t cash in on a two-out triple by Hayes in the second.
In the fourth, though, with two out and Moran on via an error, Hayes singled and Anthony Alford lined one to center that Brian Goodwin let bounce away. Alford legged out a two-run triple, then alertly made it home on a wild pitch that didn’t get far away from Tucker Barnhart.
After Moustakas tied the game in the fourth, the Pirates took the lead back. Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier started the fifth with singles to put runners at the corners, a classic start for a scoreless Pirate inning. Bryan Reynolds, though, got the run home by hitting into a double play, which by Pirate standards is majorly clutch.
The Pirates’ bullpen got things done. Sam Howard didn’t throw many strikes, but had a 1-2-3 fifth. Chris Stratton fanned the first two batters in the sixth, then walked Suarez. With no Miguel Del Pozo to go to, Derek Shelton brought in Nik Turley to face the lefty Moustakas. Turley gave up a single, but then fanned Matt Davidson. Richard Rodriguez closed it out with the best sort of dull inning for his third save. Howard got the win. (Fun factoid: Geoff Hartlieb and Howard came in with ERAs in the 2s but FIPs in the 4s. Rodriguez, Turley and Stratton all had ERAs in the 4s but FIPs in the 3s.)