Prior to the game on Thursday, Manager Clint Hurdle said he’s been trying some things to help spark the lineup. The offense struggled in the first two games of the three-game set against Milwaukee. They combined for just one run — an Andrew McCutchen long ball, which snapped their 23 scoreless drought without scoring a run — on nine hits in the series.
“There’s times you do move things around to try and catch a spark,” Hurdle said. ‘I do think we need to set our lineup up to where we have the best chance of having a continual lineup, with some strength from top to bottom. Actually one of the guys that’s been giving us more consistent at-bats here through the last four weeks has been [Clint] Barmes. The OBP, actual average from where it was before. [Andrew] McCutchen’s been super.”
Ironically enough, both Barmes and McCutchen delivered with home runs as the club was able to plate seven runs off the Brewers. McCutchen’s was his 30th of the season — becoming the first Pirates player to connect for 30 homers in a season since Jason Bay in 2006 (35). However, after taking a three run lead into the eighth inning, the bullpen exploded for a four-run frame in the eighth to sail the club below .500 for the first time since May 29th, when they were 24-25.
“There’s really no words to describe it,” Garrett Jones said. “It’s frustrating. We had a couple big hits tonight…It seems like we’re just not coming together as a nucleus. Just hitting, pitching, for whatever reason. The timing of us coming together just hasn’t been happening over the past few weeks.”
“It’s tough. We’re confident. We keep our heads high. When you go out there and for whatever reason things don’t bounce your way…it can be frustrating. It makes you mad. That’s the game sometimes. We just need to keep our heads high and keep playing the game. That’s all we can do, keep playing hard and go out there and give it all out on the field.”
“We were feeling good, feeling confident,” Jones recalled after the game on heading into the eighth inning. “Our bullpen has been lights out all year.”
Hurdle elected to go with Chad Qualls in the eighth inning after using Jason Grilli in the seventh to face the heart of the lineup. Qualls sported a 5.11 ERA before taking the mound, raising questions on why the skipper decided to use him in the three-run game.
“I actually felt that the job that Qualls has done while he’s been here against right-handed hitters, is what it is,” Hurdle said. “That would be the reason why he started…Qualls is a guy that’s pitched more eighth inning contests than anybody in that bullpen.”
Hurdle said after the game that he didn’t take left-handers Hisanori Takahashi or Justin Wilson into consideration to face some left-on-left matchups. Takahashi had not fared well the last outing against Milwaukee, and the rookie Wilson hadn’t been matching well up against southpaw bats with runners on base. Hurdle said he chose the experienced guys that have pitched that inning before to get out of the jam.
Qualls allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning before getting former Bucco Nyjer Morgan to fly out for the first out. Norichika Aoki followed by ripping an RBI double to right field for the first run. Hurdle then called upon Chris Resop to attempt to escape the jam. The right-handed reliever allowed a two-run triple to Rickie Weeks to tie the game before an intentional walk and a fifth hit of the inning allowed the go-ahead run to score. Resop retired his next two batters, but four runs had crossed the plate and the damage was done.
“They’re challenging,” Hurdle said of the club’s last several weeks. “There’s no doubt about that. That being said, they’re not going to go away. You’ve got to make them change. You’ve got to take it upon yourself to take it upon yourself to rearrange your room, or find a different way to get across and win games. But that’s the beauty of professional sports. Sometimes it’s a serenity prayer you’ve got to say out loud. Sometimes I read ‘The Man in the Arena’ by Teddy Roosevelt. There’s many different things I try and find for myself to keep balance and perspective on things.”
“We want to win games. When you don’t win games, you’re definitely disappointed with the outcome and the results.”
With the loss, the Pirates have now lost 14 games so far this month and drop to 5.5 back of the second Wild Card Spot. The club heads out on a seven-game road trip against Houston and New York before returning home for a final six-game set against Atlanta and Cincinnati. The club would need to go 8-5 in order to finish the 2012 season above .500.
“We just need to keep pressing forward,” Jones said. “We’re not giving up by any means. We can go on a hot streak tomorrow. We’re ticked off about tonight, but we’re going to shrug it off and hopefully turn things around tomorrow.”
Pirates Having Conversations on Karstens, McPherson’s Spot in Rotation
Rookie Kyle McPherson got the start on Wednesday at PNC Park, tossing 4.1 solid frames in his first big league start. After the bullpen retired the next two batters to finish off the fifth, Jeff Karstens came in for relief and tossed three frames of his own. For Karstens, it marked his first appearance this month after re-injuring his right hip flexor. For McPherson, it was his first Major League start after tossing seven outings in relief.
So who will fill the spot in the rotation on Monday in New York? Hurdle said he’s working through that internally.
“Very good to get him in the game,” Hurdle said on Karstens. “He feels good. We’ll look for more opportunities and we’ll continue to look at the schedule and keep our temperature on the guys that are pitching and see what might break for Jeff. But yeah, very good to see him out there. Three ups and three downs as far as going out there. He didn’t feel anything today. He’s helped a lot in the last two years, and he wants to help more.”
“We’ll catch up and share more information today. We want to look at Kyle, the overall performance and continue to have internal conversations. We’ll have [General Manager] Neal [Huntington] involved as well as [pitching coach] Ray [Searage] and myself.”
Rodriguez Scuffles Against Milwaukee
Wandy Rodriguez had been on a roll since making a two-inning relief appearance in the Pirates 19-inning game in St. Louis. The left-hander had recorded a 1.83 ERA over his last six appearances, and an even better 1.40 ERA over his last 25.2 innings of work. Rodriguez tied his season-high in strikeouts (7, twice) during that span, but on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park lasted just four innings after a rough first frame that shortened his day.
Rodriguez needed 30 pitches to get through the Brewers lineup in the first inning. HE delivered his second pitch of the game, and Aoki delivered with a single to left field. Aoki then swiped second base. Rod Barajas’ throw to second sailed into center field for an error allowing the runner to move up to third. After issuing a walk to Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun hit into a fielder’s choice to plate the first run of the game. Aramis Ramirez followed by launching a 1-0 pitch to center field for a two-run homer.
Rodriguez was able to work himself out of the jam after the long ball. Back-to-back knocks and an intentional walk loaded up the bases for the Brewers’ pitcher Mike Fiers, who struck out to end the inning.
“In the first inning, I didn’t have my location,” Rodriguez said. “I missed a lot of my locations. I threw a lot of pitches in the middle. Second and third, and the fourth too, I tried to put the ball wherever I wanted. I threw better.”
After retiring the Brewers in order in the second, Rodriguez allowed a leadoff double to left to start the next inning. After Ramirez advanced to third on the fly out, Jonathan Lucroy hit a sac fly to left to drive in the fourth run off Rodriguez. However, replay showed differently. Starling Marte showed off his impressive arm with a perfect throw to home. Rod Barajas blocked the plate with his foot, and Ramirez, who didn’t slide, didn’t touch home plate.
Rodriguez went on to retire six of his next seven before Manager Clint Hurdle pinch-hit for the left-hander with the bases loaded in the fifth. Overall, Rodriguez was charged with four runs on five hits over four innings. He walked two and struck out three while throwing 79 pitches, 52 strikes. The four-inning start was his shortest since tossing four frames in a five-run earned loss in San Diego when he was still a member of the Houston Astros.