PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Pirates offense has struggled to score runs this season. But on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, the bats came out swinging against the Chicago Cubs. The club pounded out 10 runs — the most they’ve scored in a game during the 2012 season. It passed their previous mark of nine on April 30 against the Braves in Atlanta. Most of the damage came in the sixth frame when the Bucs plated six runs.
“Good day on the North shore. Good day all around,” Manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates entered game action having hit a combined 35 home runs this season, but prior to the first inning of the game on Sunday, they have all either been solo or two-run shots — a span of 1484 at-bats. That was until Pedro Alvarez stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first.
“I like them. I’m a big fan of them,” Hurdle said of three-run bombs. “I was well aware of the fact that we hadn’t had one. Hopefully like everything else, they’ll come in bunches. They make the offensive game pick up dramatically when you can get three runs on one swipe. It was about time for us to get one of those. You’d like to think that that kind of game can loosen them up.”
Jose Tabata led off the bottom of the inning with a base knock up the middle. Attempting to push Tabata to second, Josh Harrison laid down a sac bunt, but pitcher Matt Garza sailed the throw past the first base bag, allowing the runners to advance to second and third base. After Andrew McCutchen grounded into a fielder’s choice to nail Tabata at the plate, the third baseman Alvarez connected on a 3-1 changeup for a three-run blast to right field. It marked his first long ball since May 3.
“I was just up there trying to be ready to be able to hit whatever he threw up there,” Alvarez said.
“It was good to see Pedro sit back and hit a changeup into the bleachers,” Hurdle said. “On a 3-1 count he was probably looking fastball, but he was able to foot down, get a good read and react to it.”
Alvarez has already surpassed his home run total from his disappointing 2011 season (six) and with the three-run homer tied his 19 RBI he knocked in last year as well.
The long ball struck again in the fifth frame, this time from Andrew McCutchen. The All-Star center fielder took a 1-2 inside fastball for a solo-shot to left field. With that swing, McCutchen tied Alvarez for the team-lead in home runs at eight. The Pirates improved to 8-2 when they hit at least two dingers in a game.
“Andrew, straight pull dead left with some power. He’s had a very impressive month of May,” Hurde said of his All-Star center fielder who, bumped his average up to .342 on the season.
The Bucco bats didn’t stop swinging against the Cubs.
Garrett Jones was the next to break out the lumber for the Pirates. The right fielder connected for a two-run shot to right on an 0-2 pitch to chase the Cubs starter Garza from the game.
“It’s good to see Jones, not just hit the home run, but also an off-speed pitch,” Hurdle said. “He hit another off-speed pitch left-center for a double earlier in the game.”
The Pirates have had three, three-homer games this season. All of them have come in the month of May. The previous two came against the Washington Nationals (May 8, 17).
“They were good to see,” Hurdle said of the home runs. “We threw some power out there today and it would be good to see us get a little more consistent with it.”
The runs kept on coming in. Cubs relievers walked Matt Hague and Michael McKenry back-to-back before Gorkys Hernandez, who pinch-hit for Jose Tabata, picked up his first Major League hit and RBI with a two-run single. Alvarez picked up his fourth RBI of the game with a sac fly to center field to plate the fifth run of the inning. Neil Walker picked up a RBI hit before Garrett Jones struck out to end the pounding of the Cubs. Overall, 11 men came to the plate in the sixth inning.
The Pirates bullpen, which has been lights out this season, proved to be human in the win. The ‘pen, which posts the best ERA in the National League, allowed four runs in relief. Right-hander Chris Resop allowed three runs in the eighth inning to end the shutout. Two runs came off a home run hit by shortstop Starlin Castro. Juan Cruz allowed a RBI double in the ninth. With the 10-4 win, the Pirates gave the Cubs their 12th straight loss. It also marked the first time since September 17-19 of 2010 that the Bucs recorded a three-game sweep at PNC Park.
Bedard Bounces Back With Six Scoreless
Since exiting in the top of the first inning in his start on May 9, Erik Bedard had back-to-back outings where he gave up four runs on six hits. In his six prior starts to start the year, Bedard didn’t allow more than two earned runs in any of his outings. Against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday at PNC Park, Bedard bounced back by tossing six scoreless frames and scattered just two hits.
Bedard did walk four batters in his 10th start of the season with three strikeouts, but was able to keep the free passes from touching home plate.
“Sometimes you’ll have a couple starts where you don’t do good. You try and bounce back and I tried to do that,” Bedard said.
“We had a very effective start from Erik,” Hurdle said. “It was a little bit of a mixed bag…Push came to shove, he made pitches. Not at a lot hitters retired on three pitches or less and about a half dozen three ball counts. But at the end of the day, no runs, three hits. Job well done for Erik.”
Bedard said the benefit of having an early lead helps him on the mound. It marked Bedard’s first win at PNC Park this season.
“When you’re ahead as a team, a lot of times they’ll take the first pitch,” Bedard said. “To get on a roll like that and score 10 runs, it’s nice. It makes it easier for the pitcher to pitch.”
Hernandez Gets First Major League Hit and RBI
Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez replaced Jose Tabata in the bottom of the sixth inning due to tightness in his left leg. After going 0-for-4 in his first appearances since being recalled on May 18, Hernandez connected for a two-run single off the Cubs righty Michael Bowden to right field. It marked his first Major League hit and RBI.
“He threw me a fastball right down the middle and I got the single and two RBI’s,” said after the game.
Hernandez said he got the ball and plans on giving it to his family.
“I’m going to give it to my wife and mom and my daughter too,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Karstens Takes Step in the Right Direction
Right-hander Jeff Karstens made his second rehab start last night, his first for Triple-A Indianapolis. After retiring his first 12 batters, Karstens struggled with his command in the fifth inning. Five runs scored (three earned) on two hits a walk and a wild pitch. The right-hander also committed a throwing error in the frame.
“He pitched into the fifth,” Hurdle said. “Got his pitch count to where we wanted it. Cruised through four. Some complications in the fifth, but nothing out of the ordinary. Not as sharp. Command got a little bit sideways on him. He threw all his pitches so it was a step in the right direction.”
Hurdle said they will wait to see how he feels today and then they will plan his next step. Karstens will look to stretch out to six innings or 80 pitches in his third outing. The club said they are not going to rush him back to the mound. The Pirates pitching staff has been effective in his absence. They are ranked No. 3 in the Majors with a 3.23 ERA.
“His health is more important..” Hurdle said. “We’ll see how it goes. If he can ratchet it up and something works quicker than so be it. I think we’re fit for duty with the staff that we have in play. We just want him to get healthy and be able to compete when he does get back. Give him a fighting chance.”