PITTSBURGH, Pa. — If your team has strong starting pitching, your club will have the chance to win the game. That proved to be true for the Pirates during the 2011 season. The club’s starting staff kept the team in first, or near the top of the National League Central Division for the first four months of the season. But once they struggled, and the Bucs endured several injures, the Pirates fell out of first place.
To start the 2012 season, the Pirates had to open with a three-game series against the National League East Division Champions, Philadelphia Phillies. Despite facing two Cy Young Award winners in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, as well as a tough right-hander in Vance Worley, the Pirates took 2-of-3 from the Phillies at PNC Park.
“Our pitching was very, very good,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said after the Pirates walk off win on Sunday. “They all understand their roles. They understand the importance that the pitching is going to take you. It takes you good place, it takes you bad places. This is the way the game is constructed. It’s never going to change from that angle. Good pitching beats good hitting.”
“Our guys have something to prove. They got to a good place last year. They weren’t able to finish as strong as they’d like collectively as a group. I think they’re aware of that. At the same time, they’re taking it one day at a time. Showing up, being ready, preparing, and picking up the next guy.”
The Pirates first three starters –Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald — held the Phillies to four runs on 15 hits over 19.0 innings. The lost Opening Day, 1-0, but won the next two games in walkoff fashion, 2-1 and 5-4.
“It would be tough to ask for much more,” General Manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “For them to match Halladay and Lee and to keep us in ballgames, give us a legitimate chance to win, to hold the Phillies to two runs through two games is a good testament to our pitching. We’re going to have to pitch well.”
The Pirates bullpen proved to be strong as well over the first series of the season. All seven guys in the ‘pen — Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Tony Watson — combined to toss 9.0 frames, where they didn’t allow an earned run. Cruz and Hanrahan tossed two innings a piece.
“They’ve done great,” starting catcher Rod Barajas said of the pitching staff. “This isn’t an overpowering staff. It’s not a staff where you’re going to have two guys strike out 200. But these are guys that know how to pitch. The first two guys that I caught, they located their pitches, they work in and out, they add velocity, subtract velocity. They do what you expect a pitcher to do. The performances were great. Erik, he pitched well enough to win the game, but unfortunately we weren’t able to score runs. Same thing with Karstens. They’ve both been really impressive and hopefully we can it going with the other guys.”
It may just be three-games, but to start the season off on the right foot build a lot of confidence with a young team. Outside of Pittsburgh, the club may not have a lot of people believing in them. But Hurdle said it works for his guys.
“I do know our guys like to play,” Hurdle said. “And I do know they don’t get caught up in numbers, or on paper. Because on paper, [the Phillies] might have a better team then us. They definitely have a larger payroll than us. But what we hold on to everyday is that we get to go play the game. And our guys love matching up.”
“I do think there is something to be said for our guys still holding on to that, nobody believes in us. Not too many people believe in us. There’s a whole lot of people that filled up this ballpark this weekend that do support us and believe in us. But that mentality of us against the world, I think that works for these guys. I thought the resiliency showed up big time. We were never ahead [on Sunday] until we won. And to keep chipping away. We played through some adversity.”