After missing two months of this season due to right-shoulder inflammation, and a set back during a rehab outing with a hip flexor injury, Karstens first trip back the mound was shaky. Karstens allowed six earned on 11 hits over five frames, wondering if perhaps he came back from his injury too soon.
But over his last two, Karstens has been very solid for the Pirates.
“For the young kids out there watching a young guy pitch, that’s what it was,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Just location, command, changing speeds, staying out of the middle of the plate and keeping the hitters just off-balance enough where they weren’t able to square him up. It’s just off the end, just underneath it, you just top it. You come back shaking your head. You can’t wait to hit him next time. At the end of the night, you don’t have much to show for it. Very efficient outing.”
Karstens tossed eight shutout innings of four hit ball. The righty was very efficient needing just 89 pitches — 62 were for strikes — in his third start back, but was replaced by closer Joel Hanrahan in the ninth and wasn’t able to toss his third career complete game shutout.
“It’s one of those things too where I definitely felt like I could have,” Karstens said on if he felt he could go nine. “But if a guy gets on, and they bring in [closer Joel] Hanrahan…I know if I was a reliever, I wouldn’t be very happy. I have to come in here and clean up this guys inning? Just give him a clean inning and let him do his job. We got the W.”
“It’s his third start [since coming off the D],” Hurdle said. “He’s rebooting his season. We did have a little discussion. I think had it been anybody than handing the ball to Hanrahan, he might have balked at it. Eight up and downs for him. Last time he went out and it was seven. We thought that would be a good place to end it tonight. I’m not a big fan of having to bring Joel in with inherited runners on base right now. We’d like him to have a clean inning.”
Karstens breezed through the Houston Astros lineup. He needed just five pitches in the third inning and retired eight straight batters to end his start. Karstens walked just one while striking out eight — a season-high and just one shy of the most in his Major League career.
“I can’t say I’m doing it all on my own,” Karstens said. “I can’t say enough about what [Michael] McKenry’s been doing behind the plate. The first game, I felt I was a little bit behind the hitters and stuff like that. Kinda not knowing what was going on, game sequence that I wanted to use in St. Louis. Tonight, Mac did a really good job of telling me what I wanted to do and I only intervened a couple times to try and change pitches and stuff like that. If anything, it was changing location early in the game. Defense played well. We scored enough runs to win. That’s all that matters.”
The right-hander isn’t known for being a strikeout pitcher, but over his last two starts, Karstens has whiffed 15 over 15.0 innings of work.
“He’s making pitches,” Hurdle said. “He’s getting strike one. With the arsenal that he has, he can go a lot of places from there. The ability to go soft, then speed it up. When you’re throwing that slow curveball down around the 70’s and his fastball was up over 90 tonight, you’re talking about covering 20 miles. The ability to spike that breaking ball right behind the plate late, which he did a number of times, it looks so good coming out of the hand, then boom! It’s gone.”
Hurdle said pitching Hanrahan for his third straight outing tonight was more for him to have a bounce-back outing. Hanrahan gave up a solo-shot on Wednesday, and blew the save on Tuesday.
“You’re thinking, this is the third time in a row, that’s a lot to ask of anybody. But being nicked both times out, I thought it would be good,” Hurdle said.
Jones Just Misses Two Homers
The Pirates only scored two runs on five hits against Houston on Thursday night. Over their last eight games prior, the club pounded out 66 runs — averaging a Major League high 8.25 runs per game in that time.
While the offense has been red hot, Garrett Jones’ hot bat has been a little more consistent than in the past. The outfielder crushed a 1-2 fastball from the Astros’ Bud Norris in the second inning that bounced off the scoreboard in right field for a leadoff double. Casey McGehee drove him in with the second straight two-bagger allowed from Norris.
In the third, Jones picked up his seventh RBI over his last four games, driving the ball opposite field to left field for a sac fly up against the wall near the North Side Notch.
Over his last three games, Jones has gone 8-for-13 — an incredible .615 average. But Jones posted a .300 average in the month of May, and has been able to keep the hot bat swinging.
“The consistency has been very, very good,” Hurdle said. “The commitment to one approach and actually not trying to create power [has helped]. He’s got power. He was born with power. Just stand tall and use those hands and get that barrel to work out in front of him. He’s done a very good job with that.”
“He’s very confident at the plate right now…This is the hottest I’ve seen him.”
With the 2-0 shutout over the Astros, the Pirates swept them for the first time at PNC Park in a four-game set since July 19-21 in 1979. The club also improved to a season-best 10 games over .500 and have sole possession of first place in the National League Central.
“There’s two kinds of people in the world for me — those that are humble, and those who are about to be,” Hurdle said on being 10 over. “We just need to keep going about our business. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. We’re confident, but we’re not cocky. We’ve worked hard to get to this spot…We’re making our way.”
Pirates Play it Safe and Place Presley on DL
The Pirates today placed outfielder Alex Presley on the 7-day disabled list with a concussion. Pittsburgh activated infielder Jordy Mercer, who arrived to Pittsburgh yesterday, from Triple-A Indianapolis to take his spot on the 25-man roster.
“We had Alex in here earlier today and after the conversation that he’s had with the trainers, and the initial evaluations on one of the testing,” Hurdle said in his pregame press conference. “We’re going to go ahead and place him on the seven-day concussion DL. I think we’re just all best served by this to give him more time.”
The DL for concussions was created last season. The Pirates were the first to place a player on the 7-day disabled list (Ronny Cedeno).
“I think it’s just a smart move,” Hurdle said. “It’s time specific. You need to give them some time, sometimes they don’t need the entire two week period to be down. I think it was a very appropriate move made. After getting some feedback and going through these situations a few times, the challenges that come with it, to get a player back before a two week window might have to put him away.”
Presley suffered the injury in the first inning of Wednesday’s game after diving for a ball.
Pedro for Mayor
During the Pirates win on Wednesday, fans in the stadium had signs that said, ‘Pedro for Mayor’ that were hanging around the ballpark. During one of Hurdle’s pregame press conferences, the skipper used that in a quote when referring to how well he’s been hitting at the plate recently.
Hurdle said he noticed the sign at PNC Park, and loves the passion from the fans here in Pittsburgh.
“How about it? We could be on to something,” Hurdle said. “I get a kick out of it. It makes me giggle. I do know the people up there behind that sign. They are also the people that put up the ‘All in’ sign. They’re all in. They’re committed and they love their Pirates. They have for a long time.”
“I know I’m not a voice of reason, but there are people that listen to what I say and I get reminded of that when I got shopping — today at Walgreens. It’s kind of good. You can go out in the street and be a blue collar guy and people can let you know what you’re thinking…That’s how they let me know they listen.”
Barajas Scratched From Start
Rod Barajas was in the lineup prior to the game, but after batting practice was scratched. The catcher has caught just two games over the past 10 since suffering a bone bruise on his left leg.
Barajas had his leg iced after the game and said that it was “just sore”.