During the All-Star break Erik Bedard used the time off between starts to work on some adjustments. The left-hander took advantage of three side sessions after Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage saw some tweaks that he could work on before the second half of the season started.
“We’ve identified some things,” Hurdle said prior to Bedard’s 19th start of the season. “He worked them on three side sessions and he was able to recreate some of the angles and sequences, just the pitchability that we had maybe the first five weeks of the season.”
“Every once in a while it can be very helpful. It’s a long season. Whether it’s arm weariness, whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever the erosion that can come with what the season can bring. They’re great for guys to kind of find a reboot button.”
After an impressive performance from Bedard against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, the left-hander has thrown back-to-back strong starts since the break, which is very encouraging helping the club down the stretch. Over his last two starts, Bedard has allowed two earned runs on 10 hits over 13.2 innings with 15 strikeouts — good for a 1.36 ERA.
The adjustments paid off for the lefty on Monday, as he cruised through seven dominant innings at PNC Park. Although it didn’t look that way early in the game.
Bedard fell behind his first batter and issued a leadoff walk to start the game. The lefty fell behind in the count to his next three batters but was able to get out of the inning unscathed after he got Alfonso Soriano to chase swinging for the third out to leave the free pass stranded at first.
Bedard followed the first inning by retiring the side in order in the second. The left-hander cruised through the lineup again in the third, striking out two in the quick frame. He went on to retire nine straight since the leadoff walk to start the game before issuing his second free pass to leadoff the fourth. After whiffing rookie Anthony Rizzo, Soriano took a 1-0 fastball into the gap into right center field for the first hit he allowed. The two bagger also plated Starlin Castro for the first run scored. Bedard retired his next two, including his sixth punchout to get Geovany Soto looking.
Bedard picked up two more strikeouts in each of the fifth and six innings to bring his total to 10 — just one shy of his season-high 11 on May 3 in St. Louis. It marked the second time this season that the lefty recorded double-digit strikeouts.
“I was just throwing for strikes and trying to get ahead of guys,” Bedard said. ”I just keep battling and keep throwing strikes.”
The left-hander took the mound in the seventh and after retiring his first two, Soto ripped a single down the left field line for just the second knock allowed. It snapped his streak of 10 straight batters faced. On his 113th pitch of the night, the left-hander got Joe Mather to chase on a 3-2 curveball to end the seventh frame. It marked the fourth time of the season that Bedard had gone seven innings. The strikeout tied his season-high 11.
Another very encouraging take from the outing was the amount of pitches thrown. Bedard threw 113, with 67 for strikes. It was the most pitches thrown in an outing this season. His previous high was 104 in May.
“Probably a few more than I wanted,” Hurdle said of the pitch count. “But it would have been hard for me not to give him the opportunity to move forward. He said he had some left…He made pitches. That’s another good game on top of the good game he pitched in Colorado, so obviously he’s got to be feeling much better about himself.”
“You saw two guys out there with their pencil sharpeners,” Hurdle said of the starting pitching performances. Jeff Samardzija pitched eight one-hit frames in the 2-0 loss. “Our guy, boy, he got into a rhythm somewhere between the second and third inning. It was fun to watch him go to work too. With the fastball, curveball, changeup combination. But the breaking ball became very effective. A very well pitched game by both starters tonight. Very well pitched.”
Pirates in Midst of Magical Season
Throughout the season there have been some odd moments, which when looked back upon makes this 2012 season special.
There’s been a rare walk off hit-by-pitch from rookie Matt Hague. The improbable back-to-back doubles from the struggling bats of Clint Barmes and Michael McKenry off Reds Aroldis Chapman, which were the first runs he allowed of the season. They saw a new guy in Drew Sutton connect for a walk off homer, his first in the Majors since 2010. Just a few nights ago, the four run fourth inning they collected without needing a hit against the Marlins. There was also the exciting three-run homer on the first pitch after a rain delay in Colorado from Pedro Alvarez.
Those moments may just be pages in what could be a magical season. The Pirates are just a game back in the National League Central and are 13 games above .500 (54-41) — the best record they’ve had in the past 20 years. This year feels different. The players feel it, the skipper feels it, and so do the fans, who continue to fill the ballpark and flash the “Zoltan” Z.
“It very well can turn out to be something special,” Hurdle said. “Any season that turns to be magical, when it’s defined at the end, there’s lightning bolts throughout the season. I’ve journaled every season that I’ve ever been involved in. As you go back and you look at the moments — and they’re not all wins. I think that’s one of the things we miss a lot. We’re always looking for the win. There’s galvanizing moments that can be in the dugout, it can be a one-on-one conversation between a pitcher and a catcher in that clubhouse, it can be a mound meeting, it can be in a bullpen session. The ones that are most identifiable will happen on the field. You’re going to have those. If you can build, and you end up doing something that’s substantial by the end of the season, we’re making our way. This is a good time for Pirate baseball. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good time.”
“You hear it every season at the end in every sport. When the people are jumping around, you hear it. ‘It took all of us.’ As you look around at those things that happened, the different people that come into play, it does take everybody. And it takes circumstances that are uncommon from time to time.”
Bullish Pen Gives up a Run
The Pirates bullpen has been dominant this season. They entered game action with a 2.58 ERA — ranked No. 2 in the Majors. They trail just the Cincinnati Reds, who sport a 2.49 ERA. They also hadn’t surrendered a run in the last five games (13.2 innings). But on Monday, their streak was snapped.
Following Bedard’s brilliant start, right-hander Chris Resop tossed a scoreless eighth inning. He came out for his second inning of work in the ninth, and gave up a leadoff single. Hurdle elected to go to lefty Tony Watson, who struck out rookie Anthony Rizzo, but then his next batter ripped an RBI double into the gap in right center field. It not only snapped the bullpen’s streak, but it ended Resop’s nine frame scoreless appearance streak.
Evan Meek, who was recalled on Saturday, made his first appearance in the Majors since May 16. The right-hander walked back-to-back batters, but got a ground out to end the inning.