The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen one again showed why it has been one of the strongest units in Major League Baseball this season on Saturday.
The only fireworks came after the game (and during the ninth inning from the inaugural game at Highmark Stadium — home of the Pittsburgh RiverHounds soccer team), as the bullpen combined to pitch the final four innings and allowed just three hits during that span in the Pirates’ 3-1 win against the Cincinnati Reds.
Starting pitcher Jeff Locke did not pitch bad, but was helped by some solid defense behind him. Locke induced a lot of ground ball outs — 10 to be exact — and had to good fortune to have several balls hit hard but right at Pirates in the field.
“If anything the ball was down more than it was last week in L.A.,” Locke said after the game. “I still kind of fell behind guys often and I need to get much better with that and control the ball inside a lot better than I did today. Sometimes you get away with stuff like that and today was just one of those days.”
Justin Wilson took over in the sixth and came out with runners in scoring position in the seventh. Jared Hughes came in to get Pittsburgh out of that jam before Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli did what they have done so well through 11 games — shut the door.
Melancon pitched another perfect eighth inning for the Pirates — keeping his ERA at 0.00 and moving his WHIP down to 0.33 (he’s only allowed two hits and none of them have been at PNC Park). Grilli did allow a walk — his second to the Reds’ Joey Votto in as many days — before getting to pop up to Neil Walker to end the game.
“I’d rather face Frazier,” Grilli said. “Not that I wasn’t being aggressive. I just fell behind and Votto’s got a good eye.”
Grilli said the success he and the rest of the bullpen have had this season has been due to players buying into a plan and being ready to fill whatever role they are asked to.
“I look at it like we’re all closers at some point,” he said. “Every pitcher has to be a closer at some point. You’ve got situations where — look at Hughes — you’ve got a couple runners on and got a ground ball. Two pitches and he kept himself available. Everybody knows their role and knows their job. You’ve got to make that pitch and be a stopper. I learned that myself from going through the process and I try to pass on that same mentality to these guys because if we all stick to the same game plan we’re going to be having nights like tonight. Everybody has got their hand in it.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle mentioned the concern some had about Grilli’s age entering the season but said the results so far speak for themselves.
“You see the stuff. Age scares some people,” he said. “Age scares a lot of people because I got a lot of questions this spring. Most of them were all age related. Never done it. He’s always been motivated by opportunities to do things he’s never had the opportunity to do. So far he’s been able to give us everything we thought he could give us.”
Hurdle did say that Grilli will not pitch in Sunday’s series-finale against the Reds.
The Pirates found ways to manufacture runs without the help of home runs in Saturday’s win. Andrew McCutchen reached on a walk in the fourth inning and scored when Garrett Jones drove a ball into the left-center gap that Cincinnati’s Shin-S0o Choo attempted to slide for but missed. In the fifth it was Travis Snider that reached on a single and later scored on a Starling Marte hit back up the middle and in the seventh inning Jose Tabata came on as a pinch hitter and drove in Pedro Alvarez to give Pittsburgh a little breathing room in what was a 2-1 game prior to that.
Hurdle said it was nice to see Tabata come through in that spot after some less than stellar performances from the pinch hitters in previous games.
“That’s one of the hardest things to do in baseball and the ball was absolutely blistered,” Hurdle said of coming off the bench and getting a hit in that spot. “We haven’t got a lot of results out of our pinch hitters. We’ve had some good at-bats but anytime you can add on a run late against that lineup over there that’s beneficial for your bullpen and everybody involved.”
A few notes:
– Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto left the game in the fifth inning after an awkward pitch to Travis Snider. It was later announced that he was pulled from the game as a precautionary measure due to an injury to his left triceps.
– Sticking with the theme of Cincinnati pitchers, one of the brightest spots for the Pirates in the series to this point has been the absence of the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman. The “Cuban Missile” is usually reserved for save situations and with the Pirates leading late in both games this weekend Dusty Baker has not had the opportunity to bring him in the game.
– Phil Irwin appears likely to start Sunday’s game in place of Wandy Rodriguez. An official announcement on that will come from the team in the morning. Mat Latos will start on the mound for the Reds.
I’ll be back at PNC Park bright and early to set the stage for the final game of the series. The game is scheduled to start at 1:35 p.m.