Sometimes the game of baseball can surprise you. The Pittsburgh Pirates entered game action just 3.0 games behind the first place Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central. Despite a team average of just .223, which is ranked No. 29 in the Majors this season, the bats have started to heat up over their last 10 games. The pitching has held the club near the top of the standings this season, but it was both that picked each other up on Thursday.
It was a battle from both clubs throughout the game. But two key hits came up big in extra innings in the 5-4 win at Great American Ballpark.
After trailing the Reds by one run, the Bucs were finally able to get a run on the board in the fourth. The Reds right-hander Mike Leake retired his first nine straight batters to start the game before outfielder Alex Presley lined a double to right field. Neil Walker followed with his own two bagger to tie the game up at 1.
More hits followed. Andrew McCutchen’s line drive single to center put runners on the corners for Garrett Jones, who hit a sac fly to give the Bucs a 2-1 lead.
The lead didn’t last long in the see-saw game. The Reds hit a second dinger of the game off Correia in the 5th frame to former Bucco Ryan Ludwick to tie the game at 2. Correia has allowed multiple home runs in each of his last two starts. His 11 long balls this season are the most of any of the Pirates starters. Erik Bedard and Charlie Morton are second with five apiece.
But the Pirates battled back in the 6th inning. Presley hit his second leadoff single of the game. Since being recalled from Triple-A Indy, Presley is hitting .417 (5-for-12). Garrett Jones gave the Bucs the lead after hitting a two-out RBI knock.
The Reds battled back in the bottom of the inning, which knocked Correia out of the game. After allowing three straight singles, Jay Bruce’s hit tied the game at 3. Manager Clint Hurdle called upon Jared Hughes from the ‘pen with two runners on and no outs. The rookie came up big and retired the Reds three straight with a whiff to not allow a run to score.
Once again, the Pirates showed their resiliency. Jose Tabata led off the 7th inning with an infield single. After advancing to second on the sac bunt by Clint Barmes, Tabata didn’t stop there. Brandon Phillips tagged out Barmes at first, but with his back turned and not paying attention, Tabata took off for third base and slid in safely. The heads up play turned out to be huge for the club, as Michael McKenry hit a sac fly to right to retake the lead, 4-3.
The lead stayed intact until the bottom of the 9th.
Joel Hanrahan took the one run lead looking to notch his 16th save of the season. After hitting a homer in his second at-bat, Ludwick crushed a leadoff shot to tie the game up at 4. The outfielder paid revenge on his old team by hitting a bases clearing double in the Pirates’ loss on Wednesday. It marked Hanrahan’s second blown save of the season.
The game headed into extra innings. The first two batters due up for the Pirates were Clint Barmes (.187 avg) and Michael McKenry (.178), who had a tough task of facing Aroldis Chapman.
Barmes battled against Chapman and hit a ground rule double to start the 10th. It broke up the hard throwing right-hander’s 9.2 inning streak where he had not allowed a hit. And Michael McKenry hit an RBI double to right field for the first earned run allowed by Chapman this season. He entered game action with just seven hits against him while striking out 52 batters over 29.0 innings.
The last time that Chapman gave up back-to-back hits came on August 20 against who? The Pirates. It took more than 160 hitters until it happened again.
With just two relievers left in the bullpen, Manager Clint Hurdle called upon Chris Resop, who allowed a lead off double to Votto. After retiring his next batter, the club decided to intentionally walk Jay Bruce to face Todd Frazier, who popped out. With two outs, Ludwick came to the plate to once again be the hero for the Reds.
However, this time Resop had other plans.
After falling behind 0-2, Ludwick battled through six pitches — fouling off three. Resop threw a 94 mph heater down the middle of the plate for the caught looking to end the game.
The Pirates sealed the series win — their fourth straight — and travel back to Pittsburgh just two games out of the NL Central.
Should the Pirates Move Correia to the Bullpen?
Right-hander Kevin Correia struggled against the Reds on Thursday in his 11th start of the season. Correia allowed three runs on eight hits over 5-plus innings. He walked one and struck out four, which tied his season-high. Correia threw just 71 pitches, and for his second straight start was unable to pitch through the sixth inning.
Should the club consider moving him into the bullpen for long relief?
Entering game action, the righty had posted an 0.90 ERA in the second inning this season, and had not allowed an earned run in the third. But from there, the ERA takes a huge jump after the second time through the batting order. Correia has a 7.45 ERA in the fourth, 5.40 ERA in the fifth, 4.70 in the sixth and a 15.43 ERA this season in the seventh.
With the immediate future of Jeff Karstens uncertain, should they upgrade that spot in the rotation? Right-hander Brad Lincoln is coming off a rough spot start yesterday, five runs coming in the fourth when he ran out of gas, but has had a solid season for Pittsburgh. Lincoln has posted just an 0.43 ERA from the bullpen.
Lefty Jeff Locke could be a solid option to keep an eye on. Locke is scheduled to start tomorrow for Triple-A and would match up to pitch on the 13th if they decided to go that route. He’s posted a 3.10 ERA over 10 starts with Triple-A this year.