PITTSBURGH, Pa. — In front of a sell out crowd of 39, 312 in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the club inched their way closer to first place in the National League Central after beating Kansas City, 5-3.
The Buccos rallied for five runs in the fourth inning while the Royals made some sloppy plays on defense.
The Pirates took advantage of two free passes from the Royals Vin Mazzaro to start the fourth inning. Rod Barajas followed with a line drive single to right field to load the bases. Infielder Clint Barmes for the fourth straight batter to reach with an infield single to plate the first run and chase Mazzaro from the game.
Matt Hague came in to pinch hit for McDonald, who was had just one hit over his last 11 at-bats. The infielder took the first pitch fastball for a single to right field. Eric Hosmer, in just his second Major League start in right, allowed the ball to drop in for a base hit. His throw home to nail Tabata at the plate was in time, but Brayan Pena bobbled the ball and allowed the run to score.
“I was just going up there basically just trying to put something in the air,” Hague said. “It was kind of one of those weird plays in baseball. I’ve never seen that before in my life, but we scored a run.”
Two more runs followed in the rally. Alex Presley laid down a sac bunt to drive in the tying run, but the ball trickled up the third base line and Presley was safe with no throw to first. The Pirates took the lead after Neil Walker grounded to first base allowing Barajas to touch home plate for the fourth run of the inning. Garrett Jones stepped to the plate as the ninth batter of the inning. The first baseman hit into a fielder’s choice to give the Pirates a 5-3 lead.
“It was a really weird inning,” Hague said. “Just found some holes. Those kind of at-bats are big for us.”
“It wasn’t loud, but balls were finding grass and just finding spots,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Tough inning if you’re playing defense because nobody’s getting barreled up. A couple plays that almost didn’t happen. We got some breaks.”
With the win, the Pirates improve to a season-high four games over .500 (31-27) and are just one game out of first place in the National League Central.
McDonald Struggles for the First time in 2012
From the get-go, James McDonald wasn’t sharp in his 12th start of the season at PNC Park on Saturday. Although he escaped the jam in the first, the right-hander needed 23 pitches to get through the inning. McDonald allowed a leadoff walk to Alex Gordon and a one out single to Billy Butler. After a double steal to put runners on second and third, McDonald got the final out, a pop out to Jeff Francouer to end the inning.
McDonald bounced back in the second inning and threw just eight pitches (six strikes), but struggled in the third and this time wasn’t able to end the inning unscathed.
After retiring his first batter, McDonald issued his third free pass on the night, which tied his season-high (Also April 13 and 25). His next batter, Yuniesky Betancourt, took a 1-1 curveball for a two-run homer to left field.
The Royals plated a third run off McDonald in the fourth inning. Eric Hosmer ripped a leadoff double to right and after getting his next two batters out, allowed a RBI single to pitcher Vin Mazzaro. It was his first Major League hit and RBI. By the time McDonald was able to end the fourth inning, the Royals had already spiked his pitch count up to 76.
For the first time in 2012, the right-hander struggled on the mound. McDonald entered game action allowing just one earned run over his last 19.0 innings of work, and just a 2.14 ERA on the year — second best in the National League. Over his first 11 starts, McDonald has not allowed more than three earned runs in any contest.
Hurdle elected to use Matt Hague to pinch-hit with no outs and bases loaded in the fourth. Overall, McDonald allowed three runs on five hits over four innings. He walked two and struck out two. The four inning outing tied his shortest outing of 2012.
“He gave us what he had with what he had,” Hurdle said. “Fastball command wasn’t where we’ve seen it. He really had to struggle with secondary pitches.”
Karstens Down for a Week
Right-hander Jeff Karstens underwent a MRI on Friday and the results showed that he had a hip flexor injury. On Saturday afternoon, Hurdle said that he will rest his hip, but not his arm over the next week.
“The MRI showed us that it was a mild strain,” Hurdle said. “We’re going to have him down five to seven days. He’ll play some catch on flat ground to keep his arm in action. See where he can take it from there. Then get him back out [rehab] once the testing we can show that he’s comfortable with the leg and there’s no restrictions there, we’ll get him back on the mound.”
Karstens suffered the injury during what should have been his final rehab start on Thursday with Triple-A Indianapolis. He was placed on the disabled list on April 18 with right shoulder inflammation.
Lincoln Gets Another Opportunity to Start
Brad Lincoln will get the opportunity to make his third spot start on Tuesday against the Orioles in Baltimore. After right-hander Charlie Morton was placed on the disabled list on June 1, Lincoln made a spot start in his spot in the rotation. After tossing three solid innings, Lincoln ran out of the gas in the fourth and allowed four runs. He allowed two runs over six innings his first start of the season for the club.
“We’ve been working our way through it,” Hurdle said. “He is going to start Tuesday. Kevin [Correia] will pitch the following day, and then they will go accordingly.”
Hurdle said he doesn’t have a specific set pitch count for Lincoln, just to go out there as long as he can. Lincoln threw 66 pitches his last start, 80 in his first.
“I think we’ll get a better feel,” Hurdle said. “Certain times guys go out and I’ve encouraged him to do, go as hard as you can as long as you can. In Florida it was 80. The other night it was 66. I do know that he’s encouraged to get the ball again. To get another opportunity to start a game for us.”
Lincoln, who spent his professional career in the minors as a starter, has spent the majority of the season in relief. Lincoln has thrived posting an 0.45 ERA from the bullpen. He has allowed just one earned run over his last 13.0 innings in relief.
Bullpen Nailing it Down
The Pirates bullpen entered game action with the second-best ERA — 2.48 — in the National League, trailing only the Cincinnati Reds (2.43). They’ve also recorded the fewest amount of blown saves (four) in the league while converting 20 of their first 24 save opportunities.
On Saturday night the ‘pen combined to toss five scoreless innings after McDonald exited after just four innings. Although the job is to get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan, Hurdle said he has the confidence to use any of them in any role.
“I do,” Hurdle said. “But I also know they are humans and there are going to be nights where it doesn’t work that way and that doesn’t string me out either. I believe that through this period of only pitching guys back on back-to-back days and no more has really kind of sorted the roles from time to time…It’s all giving them some experience in the different opportunities that can present themselves.”