Nats’ Ninth Inning Rally Beats Pirates

Saturday was an odd day at PNC Park. For starters, the game was on national television (something that doesn’t happen often to the Pirates). This also happened. 

Then the great bullpen debate of 2013 got off and running, and well, it did not end well for the Pirates.

Starling Marte did a very Starling Marte thing and hit a two-run home run in the third inning to put the Pirates ahead 2-1, and then with the score tied in the fifth inning Clint Barmes did a very not-so Clint Barmes thing and hit a two-run home run of his own. Pittsburgh allowed Washington to tie the game again in the sixth but could not take the lead for a third time.

Tony Watson hit Ryan Zimmerman with a pitch, gave up a single to Adam LaRoche and after each of them advanced on a double steal Tyler Moore hit a sacrifice fly to score Zimmerman in the top of the ninth inning. The Pirates could not answer and Washington evened the three-game series with a 5-4 win.

The decision to not use either of the best relief pitchers on the team — Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli — was one Hurdle was asked about after the game. He was blunt in his response.

So there’s that.

Look, taking issue with the way Clint Hurdle handles the bullpen is not a new concept. Does it make sense to leave your best arms on the bench in a tight game? In an isolated situation, perhaps. But for Hurdle to come out and essentially say that Grilli and Melancon would only be used in save and hold situations seems shortsighted.

Saves and holds are nice statistics in the sense that if you get a lot of them you can say, “Look at all those saves/holds I got.” But to limit yourself and what you can do in that way does not make sense (to me). If it had worked on Saturday nobody would be talking about this, and if the Pirates win on Sunday I imagine the conversation will shift.

So what else happened in this game? There were, of course, the home runs by Marte and Barmes (his first of the season) and Jeff Locke regressed from his previous two outings, but was not bad either. He lasted five innings and allowed four runs (three earned) with three walks and two strikeouts. Where Locke went wrong was issuing free bases to the Nationals.

Roger Bernadina was hit by a pitch in the third inning and later scored while in the sixth inning Locke walked Ryan Zimmerman who would come around to score (along with Bryce Harper) on a Wilson Ramos single later in the inning off Justin Wilson.

“The hit batter came on a curveball. I just didn’t finish it all the way,” Locke said. “It wasn’t like I was trying to come in with a fastball and missed location or anything like that. Everything felt good today I just need to be a little more efficient early in the count.”

Hurdle said he thought Locke was “in and out of his delivery” and yanked Locke before he could record an out in the sixth.

“I thought we’d be best served to pinch off that inning and maintain a lead and not try to mess with the other side of their bullpen. I thought with Wilson and the RPMs he could bring that was our best bet to get out of that inning.”

It was a strange game and my head sort of hurts from thinking about it too much. I’ll be back at PNC Park bright and early Sunday morning for the series finale. Wandy Rodriguez will start for the Pirates with Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 5.34 ERA) taking the mound for the Nationals.

Author: Tom Bragg

Tom Bragg is a beat writer and analyst for PiratesProspects.com. He is the former sports editor of the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and has worked at the Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the (Ashland, Ky.) Independent. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers all over West Virginia and he has written for The Associated Press with stories posted to several major media outlets (ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com, FoxSports.com). Tom graduated from Marshall University in May 2010 with a degree in Print Journalism. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomBraggSports

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