The Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff shined at PNC Park on Wednesday night. Wandy Rodriguez and the bullpen blanked St. Louis, which extended their consecutive scoreless streak to 21 frames. Not since the sixth inning of Monday night’s loss had the Cardinals plated a run off Pittsburgh’s arms.
The feat was impressive considering the Cardinals entered game action on Wednesday atop the National League in average, hitting for a team .277 clip this season. St. Louis also leads in SLG (.432) and OBP (.341) in the NL.
“You go against that offense and you put 18 zeros on the board in 18 innings,” Manager Clint Hurdle said over the last two games. “I couldn’t be any prouder of them. The two starts that we got were just what we needed. The bullpen action followed through…To finish the last 48 hours. We’re going to battle. These guys trust each other. They play hard for one another. And that’s not going to change.”
Rodriguez was able to toss six shutout frames on Wednesday holding the Cardinals to just three hits with three strikeouts and three walks. The left-hander worked himself into one jam in his outing, albeit a small one.
With two outs in the third, Rodriguez allowed a walk and a single to St. Louis before Matt Holliday stepped to the plate. But Rodriguez was able to get a big out by getting the outfielder to pop out to end the inning.
“I do think it started with the short outing in St. Louis,” Hurdle said. “He was able to back that up with a good outing the last time he pitched. And today, truth be told, that’s not the sharpest one we’ve seen, but it was effective Wandy. He made pitches when he had to.”
“Those guys can do some damage against left-handed pitching. You’ve seen the numbers. And he made pitches. He was able to pitch inside. He was able to throw his breaking ball. The changeup was an effective pitch for him as well. It was good to see for him. That’s got to help his confidence dramatically.”
Since pitching in relief in St. Louis in the 19th, Rodriguez has now had back-to-back solid outings as a Pirate. The lefty allowed three earned over 6.2 innings his last trip to the mound. Hurdle believes that when Rodriguez was traded to Pittsburgh, he put too much pressure on himself to do well, which in the end hurt him. He allowed 15 runs over his first four starts after being dealt from Houston.
“I do think the man tried to validate the trade in the first four starts,” Hurdle said. “You’re dealing with human beings. The first time traded after being in a place a long time, I think that’s one of the factors. Very amped up on the mound, wanting to get things done, maybe outside himself a little bit, over excited. We’ve talked about it.”
“He would have liked it to be sooner, so did we. The point being, he’s not here for a short period of time, he’s for a long period of time and we need to get him right…He wanted to do really well, really quick. And more often than not, I think most of us men can identify with that, when you want to do really well, really quick, sometimes that’s not the answer to doing well. Instead of just staying in your comfort zone and repeating what you’ve done to have some success.”
“Every time I get the opportunity I try and do the best I can and help this team the most I can,” Rodriguez said. “When I come here I tried to do the best I can. When I throw a good game and I lose the game, so I feel bad. I tried to prove [myself] and do the best I can.”
With the series win over St. Louis, the Pirates would receive home field advantage in a one-game series in the event that the Cardinals and Pittsburgh finish the season tied for the second spot in the Wild Card standings.
“These guys love to play,” Hurdle said. “They love the challenges in front of them. We’re not trying to be slaves to the history here, we’re trying to create new history. It’s going to be hard. It’s been 19 seasons of challenging baseball here. As this season unfolds, there’s going to be some hard times and some struggles and challenges that are going to define these men. We’re not a perfect club. We’ve got some holes. There’s some nights it doesn’t show up very well. But the big picture part of these guys? They believe they can win every night they take the field.”
“When you start to build a foundation of good baseball, there’s some guys that will tell you, they might feel some different things late in the season. We’re in a different situation than most of them have been in before…We’re growing and learning as we move forward. We’re running out of games. That’s what makes it exciting.”
Alvarez’s Big Night on Tuesday Could be A-Ha! Moment
Pedro Alvarez had a big night on Tuesday against St. Louis. The third baseman belted two long balls en route to his four hit night. That moment for Alvarez could be the a-ha moment that locks him in at the plate.
“There’s times guys do things that really grab some greatness, or grabs significance,” Hurdle said. “It might have been one of those a-ha! games where, ‘you know what, I can do this’. This is why I work so hard. This is why I put all the extra effort in. This is why I want to be special in this game.”
Alvarez carried that momentum over into Wednesday after belting a three-run homer in the third frame. Alvarez took a 3-1 curveball from St. Louis’ Joe Kelly and blasted it deep to right field. It marked the third long ball in his last six at-bats. Alvarez now has 26 home runs on the season.
“Pedro’s performance this series against the Cardinals speaks for itself,” Hurdle said. “When he shows up like this, he’s like the big kid on the playground. They try to spin him 3-1 and he hits it into the bleachers. You saw what he was able to do last night. He follows with a ringing double in the gap…It’s good. It’s good for Pedro. It’s good for his teammates because they pull for him.”
“I feel comfortable [at the plate],” Alvarez said of his recent hot streak. “Just trying to take full advantage of every opportunity I get. There are times where the numbers don’t indicate how well you’re doing. That’s the thing about baseball, some times you have nothing to show for it. But the confidence and the comfort is there.”
Alvarez went 2-for-4 on the day, also picking up a double in the fifth. Having a tough bat in the lineup is not only important, but it makes it easier for the other players in the lineup, too.
“Everyone in the lineup is important,” Alvarez said. “Everyone has a role. I think the problem is, sometimes we get a little too involved in what roles are supposed to be and we add that extra pressure on ourselves. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing the game to the best of your ability. Just going out there and playing.”
Rotation Set for Weekend in Milwaukee
Manager Clint Hurdle announced the rotation for the series in Milwaukee over the weekend. The Pirates have an off day on Thursday, but then kick off a three game series before returning home on Monday.
Jeff Karstens, Hurdle said, is healthy and is scheduled to pitch the first game on Friday. Karstens was removed from his last outing with discomfort in his groin.
“You can’t recreate game adrenaline, you can’t recreate the game experience,” Hurdle said. “You can do things and run around on the field and throw a bullpen, monitor your activity level, your adrenaline level to some degree. We’ll wait and see. He’s tried to be as up front as he can, telling us how he feels and doing the proper things to get ready to start. We’ll just see where it takes us.”
A.J. Burnett will follow on Saturday, with James McDonald taking the ball on Sunday. The rotation following Milwaukee is still being determined.