With James McDonald a last-minute scratch, it was up to Jeanmar Gomez to pitch on short notice Tuesday night against the Seattle Mariners at PNC Park.
Not only did Gomez pitch, but he pitched well as the Pirates beat the Mariners 4-1.
Gomez allowed just two hits with five strikeouts and two walks in five innings of work before handing the ball to the bullpen to finish the job — which they did. Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Jose Contreras, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli combined to keep the Mariners at bay over the final four innings.
“You hate for J-Mac to have to go on the DL but Gomez stepped up,” Andrew McCutchen told the media after the game. “He’s done it before. That can be tough on someone but he took it in a positive manner and he went out and did an amazing job.”
As tough as it may have been for Gomez on Tuesday, McCutchen certainly made things easier with four hits in four at-bats and an early RBI that helped the Pirates get out to a 2-0 lead.
McCutchen had struggled, by his standards, in recent weeks but started to heat up during the weekend series against Washington. Clint Hurdle said it was only a matter of time before the Pirates’ star center fielder began to put the ball in play on a regular basis.
“His swing is better and he’s in a better place at the plate with his balance and rhythm,” he said.
Pittsburgh was clinging to its two-run lead for most of the game. Seattle cut the lead to 2-1 in the seventh inning when Dustin Ackley scored on a Raul Ibanez double. After that, the Pirates got some breathing room from a Garrett Jones two-run home run in the eighth to provide some insurance. Melancon and Grilli combined, again, to preserve the win in the final two innings.
Hurdle put to rest any speculation that the move to put McDonald on the disabled list was one the Pirates had planned, saying that when he was alerted to the issue today was the first he had heard of McDonald being hurt. McDonald had been asked by members of the media on several occasions if he was injured or if something was off and denied it each time.
The move gives the Pirates essentially an entire pitching staff worth of arms on or in the process of returning from the disabled list along with Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano (though Liriano is expected to start for the Pirates later this week when they visit New York to play the Mets).
The Pirates have persevered despite having to find creative ways to fill voids in the rotation. Tuesday’s win moved Pittsburgh to 18-4 on the season, which has the team tied with Cincinnati two games behind St. Louis for first place in the National League Central.
“When someone goes down in the past we didn’t have anybody to come up and pick up the slack but we have it now,” McCutchen said. “The scary thing about it is everyone isn’t healthy.”
One pitcher who has been healthy for the Pirates this season has been A.J. Burnett, who will face Seattle ace Felix Hernandez on Wednesday. While the prospect of facing a pitcher of Hernandez’s caliber could be daunting to some, McCutchen downplayed the match up.
“It’s another game,” he said. “It’s no different. Doesn’t matter who is on the mound.”