Jonathan Sanchez avoided his regular command issues, but the Pirates’ starter came apart in the sixth inning as his offense provided no support in a 3-0 loss at Dodger Stadium on Friday night.
The Buccos’ left-handed starter allowed only one walk in his Pirates debut, but was charged with all three runs by serving up an Andre Ethier home run and back-to-back RBI doubles to the heart of the Dodgers’ expensive lineup in front of a fireworks crowd of 40,607 fans.
“I feel comfortable right now,” Sanchez said. “You just got to go there, make quality pitches and keep them in the games.”
Sanchez kept the Pirates in by leaning on his fastball. His first 10 pitches were all fastballs, and 45 of his first 58 pitches were either four-seam fastballs or cutters. The results were very good, as he allowed only two hits and no walks in the first four innings, though one of those hits hurt.
In the second, Andre Ethier smacked a high 2-2 fastball into the right field seats for the first Dodgers home run since pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s surprise dinger on Opening Day.
“Actually, he didn’t miss the location he wanted to go on Ethier,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Ethier went up and handled the ball out of the zone that he hit for the home run… [Sanchez’s] fastball was live, there was good finish to it.”
In falling to 1-3 on the season, the Pirates’ bats were even colder than they had been in chilly Pittsburgh. One of the two Pirates hits probably should have been an error, a Garrett Jones second-inning single that hopped oddly in the grass in front of second baseman Mark Ellis and off his glove. Zack Greinke proceeded to retire the next 14 Pirates hitters, including four strikeouts in a row.
“We’re not in the best place offensively, but that can be compounded when a guy is throwing strikes and he’s got four pitches that you’ve got to be able to react to,” Hurdle said.
Greinke was pulled to a standing ovation after allowing a seventh-inning single to Andrew McCutchen, a debut well done (6.1 scoreless innings, 2 hits, 6 strikeouts). The new Dodgers pitcher got into 8 three-ball counts against Pirates hitters, but did not allow any walks.
“When we were getting three-ball counts, he was coming with his fastball. That’s what he did every single time,” McCutchen said. “He was just able to sneak it in there and pound the zone.”
With no offense to speak of, the pressure was on Sanchez, who pitched around trouble in the fifth inning. A.J. Ellis doubled to the left field corner, and a batter later, Greinke singled sharply into left. Ellis was held at third to avoid being gunned down by Starling Marte. Sanchez got out of the inning by getting Crawford to swing and miss at a nice slider (Mike McKenry calls it his out pitch) for the strikeout.
But his strong foundation crumbled in the sixth. He issued his first walk to Mark Ellis, then served up back-to-back RBI doubles. Matt Kemp lined a changeup into right-center for an RBI double (the center fielder’s first hit of the season), then Adrian Gonzalez did the same down the right-field line to score Kemp and put the Dodgers up 3-0.
Sanchez then exited for Jeanmar Gomez, who put out the sixth-inning fire with a groundball and lineout double play, with help from the poor baserunning of Gonzalez and Luis Cruz. The starter was losing velocity on his fastball, sitting 89 after pumping it as high as 93 miles per hour early on. The ability to hit the strike zone, with only one walk and 61% strikes, was a plus, but Sanchez was hit hard to allow four of his six hits as extra-base hits.
“I’m a fastball pitcher. That’s my command,” Sanchez said. “Just throw a lot of fastballs and then throw my breaking pitches. I think I threw a lot of fastballs that were quality.”
Gomez was solid in his own Pirates debut as the Bucs’ only reliever. The right-hander pitched three scoreless innings, allowing only a sharply-hit single to Mark Ellis that bounced under the glove of a diving Pedro Alvarez. The two pitchers combined for a solid outing, keeping the Pirates third in baseball in runs allowed (9) and the best in the league in batting average allowed (.149).
The Pirates will have to address their so-far inept offense, as they generated only three baserunners against the Dodgers’ staff of Greinke, Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League. None of those Pirates on base got past first, as McCutchen was thrown out in a steal attempt by A.J. Ellis at second base.
“We’re playing close ballgames. In the first two losses, we got the winning run to the plate. Today, we didn’t,” Hurdle said. “It’s similar to what we saw coming out of the chute last year, from an offensive standpoint.”
The Dodgers have gone 29-7 in their last 36 games against the Bucs at Chavez Ravine. As for this season, the Pirates’ offense is last in baseball with only six runs, 15 hits and a .356 team OPS. The Pirates are still without a home run through four games, and they are in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts and walks.