Bullpen Blows Up Keller’s Gem in Loss to Cards

One of the marks of a good team is that somebody always seems to come through to pick up other guys when they have bad stretches.  That’s why it’s a good team; it has lots of good players and doesn’t delude itself with fantasies like winning just with pitching, or filling in around a few good players with a bunch of cheap waiver pickups.  Well run teams work constantly to upgrade everywhere.  On a bad team, though, somebody always seems to let the team down.  Even a bad team has players with ability.  It just isn’t enough for them to perform well consistently, so somebody will always wet the bed.

So it was with the Pirates today.  Mitch Keller threw six no-hit innings and left with a 4-0 lead, but the bullpen let the Cards take the lead before they managed to record even two outs.  In the end, the Cards won, 5-4, despite getting only three hits.

Keller had his best major league start so far.  He mostly threw strikes (although he seemed to be losing it a bit in his last inning) and he missed bats.  His fastball was 94-96, so it seems his earlier velocity drop had something to do with the oblique issue.  He gave up a walk and a hit batsman in the first, and a walk in the second.  After the latter, he retired the last 14 hitters he faced.  Keller fanned six and threw 52 of 84 pitches for strikes.

The Pirates didn’t exactly hammer Kwan Hyun Kim, but considering that he hadn’t allowed an earned run in his previous four starts, they did far better than you’d have expected.  In the first inning, Ke’Bryan Hayes blasted a 413-foot drive over the wall in center, a little to the right of the notch.  It was his third career homer.  In the third, Jose Osuna waited just long enough on a 68-mph curve and lined it into the seats in left for his second home run of the year.  That made it 2-0 Pirates.

In the sixth, Hayes struck again, lining a double to center to lead off.  He went to third when Erik Gonzalez reached on an infield hit and scored when Colin Moran singled up the middle.  Jacob Stallings later brought in another run with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0.

The bullpen did not pick up where Keller left off.  Geoff Hartlieb came on for the seventh and continued to see his control slide downhill.  He faced three hitters, walking two, hitting one and throwing only five of 16 pitches for strikes.  Sam Howard replaced Hartlieb and the no-hitter quickly disappeared on a two-run double by Tyler O’Neill.  Things just collapsed from there and, by the end of the inning, the Cards led, 5-4.  The bullpen retired only one of the first nine batters they faced.  Chris Stratton finally managed to get the last two outs after walking the first batter he faced.  During the inning, Hartlieb, Howard and Stratton threw 47 pitches, only 19 for strikes.

On the plus side, Blake Cederlind had a nine-pitch eighth inning, striking out two.  He was throwing 98-99.  Richard Rodriguez had a nearly identical inning in the ninth.

The Pirates’ hitters went back into their normal slumber mode after the sixth.  The Cards’ bullpen blew them away easily, giving up just a walk and a hit batsman over the last two innings.

The Pirates are now 15-37 and closing in on the chance to get screwed out of the top pick in the draft.