It took more than a week, but the Pittsburgh Pirates finally showed something resembling consistency on offense in the Bucs’ 6-5 win on Wednesday against Arizona at Chase Field.
The Pirates posted a season-high in runs scored and broke into double-digits in the hit column for the first time in 2013 with 11 hits against the Diamondbacks. This was not an offensive explosion by any means, but with the way the team came limping into the desert after dreadful performances against the Cubs and Dodgers any signs of life at the plate are worth celebrating (and in this case, writing about).
It all started, appropriately enough, with Starling Marte. For the fourth consecutive game, Marte led off the top of the first inning with a hit and promptly stole second base and moved to third on a caught foul ball off Andrew McCutchen’s bat before scoring on Garret Jones’ hard hit ball off the glove of Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill.
That lead would not last, however, as the Diamondbacks got to James McDonald in their half of the first for four runs. McDonald struggled to locate his fastball and was tagged for a two-run homer run by Jason Kubel in the inning.
McDonald settled down after the that, allowing just one hit before leaving the game after five innings of work.
“James’ challenge right now is consistency and dependability,” Clint Hurdle told the media after the game. “We’ve seen the good. It was a nice step tonight because there was some games in the second half of last season where if you throw up for on him in the first there’s not much distance for him after that. He’s got to maintain his delivery. He’s got to stay on the mound, get a sign and go.”
Unlike games from the first two series of the season, this time the strong work on the mound bought the Pirates enough time to mount a comeback as the team broke through for its first “big inning” of the season in the fourth.
The Pirates scored five runs in that inning to take the lead back from the D-backs, and perhaps to take back some of the confidence lost in the team’s slow start at the plate.
Marte was involved again, this time with a two-run double and Neil Walker broke an 0-21 streak with a two-run single (his first RBIs since last August). McDonald even got in on the action, pulling back a bunt attempt to slap a single back up the middle to foil the Diamondbacks’ wheel play to load the bases and set up Marte and Walker at the top of the order.
“We’ve got some guys that can hit and they are going to hit,” Hurdle said. “They’re not going to hit .120 all year long. We got some balls to hit so we feel like we can compete in the box and stretch out at-bats.
In addition to Walker snapping out of his recent slump, Pirates’ catcher Russell Martin collected his first hit of the year — a ground rule double in the first inning. Garrett Jones played well, going 3 for 5 with two RBIs, while Travis Snider found himself on base several times with two hits and a walk.
“It’s always good to get (Walker) started,” Hurdle said. “Russell got in play tonight as well. His swings have been better the last two nights. Neil’s from the left side have been better. Everybody sharpened up for us.”
One of the few things that hasn’t needed sharpening for the Pirates so far in the young 2013 season has been the bullpen, and that was again the case on Tuesday.
Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli combined to preserve the win for the Pirates over the final four innings with the only real scare coming in the seventh when McCutchen saved several runs by making a play on a hard hit ball to center field by Migeul Montero with the bases loaded. Alfredo Marte scored on the play but McCutchen’s grab prevented the game from slipping away in the late innings.
Melancon and Grilli again proved to be a solid back of the bullpen duo. Melancon pitched a perfect eighth inning before handing the ball off to Grilli, who surrendered a two-out single to Martin Prado before getting Kubel to pop up to end the game.
“The bullpen, again, we got just what we needed out of everybody,” Hurdle said. “(Melancon) has done what he can do. he said he learned more in six weeks at spring training than he had in a lot of time before just about setting up hitters, reading swings. The last outing at home his stuff became really sharp. We’ve seen him sharp in L.A. and we’ve seen him sharp last night but this is a guy that’s closed games before so it’s not like it’s uncharted territory.”
— Wandy Rodriguez had an MRI on his left hamstring Tuesday, but the results were not immediately available. Hurdle said prior to Tuesday’s game that Rodriguez was still scheduled to start Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh against Cincinnati but that could change once the results of the MRI are known.
— Johnathan Sanchez and Wade Miley are your scheduled starting pitcher’s for today’s series finale at Arizona. First pitch from Chase Field is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. EST. The team is off on Thursday before opening a 10-game home stand Friday evening at PNC Park against the Reds.