The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to struggle to find a way to create a spark. The lineup hasn’t been able to provide offense, while the bullpen, which was once a strength, has become a recent weakness. With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the collapse has pushed the club not only out of playoff reach, but possibly out of their first winning season in two decades.
“It seems like we’re just not coming together as a nucleus,” first baseman Garrett Jones said. “Just hitting, pitching, for whatever reason. The timing of us coming together just hasn’t been happening over the past few weeks.”
Rookie Jeff Locke gave the club the chance to win. Making his fourth start of the season, the left-hander allowed a three-run homer with two-outs in the first inning. After a one-out single and a four pitch walk, Jed Lowrie took a 2-1 pitch from Locke for the three-run shot. The long ball has hurt Locke since he was promoted to Pittsburgh this season. He allowed two in his last start and at least one in each of his three starts and six overall (24.2 innings). Locke allowed just nine all season at the Triple-A level over 141.2 frames.
From there, Locke was able to hold Houston to just one hit, a leadoff double in the third, over his next four scoreless. Locke retired eight of his final nine and also notched a career-high eight whiffs. He’s recorded 22 strikeouts to just five walks over 20.1 innings over his four starts with Pittsburgh this season.
The bullpen following Locke combined to allow four runs over the remaining three frames to the Astros. Pirates pitchers entered game action with a 4.82 ERA in the month of September, which is fifth worst in the Majors during that span.
While the pitching struggled on Friday in Houston, the offense hasn’t been able to put together consistent at-bats. The Pirates lineup, which has hit for a team .233 clip this month, combined for just one run off the Astros bullpen after their starter was injured in the second frame. Jones belted his 24th long ball of the season in the eighth, but the rest of the team combined for just six hits. With the 7-1 loss, the Pirates drop to two games below .500 and have lost four straight. They’ve only posted four victories in the month of September.
McDonald Struggles in Relief Appearance
James McDonald made his first appearance in relief since Manager Clint Hurdle moved the struggling right-hander into the bullpen. For McDonald it was his first outing in relief as a member of the Pirates. Following Locke’s outing, McDonald took the mound in the sixth. However, the right-hander didn’t fare well.
The first batter that McDonald faced took a 2-0 fastball and homered to left field. McDonald then hit a batter, gave up an RBI triple to right field and issued a walk without retiring a batter. Hurdle pulled McDonald from the game. Rookie Bryan Morris allowed one of his inherited runners to score charging McDonald with three runs on two hits with one walk.
McDonald continues to struggle in the second half. His ERA jumped to 4.21 on the season.
Walker Scratched from Lineup
Neil Walker was originally in the Pirates’ lineup on Friday, but prior to the game was scratched. Walker was replaced by rookie Brock Holt, who played second and hit eighth.
Walker was scratched due to a stiff back. The second baseman felt soreness in his lower back, which forced him to miss 16 games earlier this month, due to a combination of two things. The result was due to the lengthy four-hour plus game in Pittsburgh on Thursday. It also made it worse due to the three-hour flight to Houston last night.
Holt went 1-for-4 in Walker’s absence. Clint Barmes was bumped to the No. 2 spot for Walker and went 0-for-4.