The moments that turned out to be the vital ones for the Pirates in Friday’s 3-1 win against the Washington Nationals pretty much summed up Pittsburgh’s season in a nutshell.
With Neil Walker officially being placed on the disabled list, the team had to call Jordy Mercer up from Indianapolis on Friday afternoon just a few hours before the game. In the first month of the season seemingly whenever something would go wrong for the team — be it a loss or a cold streak — the end result could be viewed as a positive.
With the game tied 1-1 in the fifth inning, Mercer, who was hitting second for the Pirates on Friday, smacked a 2-0 pitch just over the left field wall and beyond the reach of Bryce Harper for a two-run home run the proved to be the winning margin.
“I hit him second because he’s been hot,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “One of the things I’m a big fan of when we get these guys up in Indianapolis if they’ve been playing and they’ve been playing well is to get them in as quick as we can.”
Mercer said after he ran the count to 2-0 he told himself to be ready for a pitch to hit.
“(Washington starting pitcher Ross Detwiler) was pounding fastballs and had good velocity,” Mercer said. “Told myself I was going to get ready for that 2-0 pitch and see what happens and I was successful. I got myself in a good count and let it fly. Whatever happens happens after that.”
Then when the Nationals had their best opportunity to score, just like has been the case all season when the Pirates have a lead, the bullpen put a stop to the offensive threat.
Mark Melancon did the Mark Melancon thing where he pitches the eighth inning and gets the ball to Jason Grilli with a lead for the ninth. Friday was somewhat odd in that Melancon allowed multiple baserunner, but when he found himself in a two-out, runners on the corners situation with Harper at the plate he found a way to escape. Harper struck out swinging and with it ended the last real threat by Washington.
“Melancon is going after everybody this year,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes the hitters are going to get you when you’re going at them with your best stuff. The kid’s done a very good job, Harper, hitting right handed pitching. That was a very good match-up That’s one of the prime time match-ups you look for when you come out to a ballgame. Our guy pitched through the error and a two-strike base hit that was dumped into right field. He continues to show up and be very, very effective.”
And of course A.J. Burnett had one of his best starts of the season (and there have been a few) in striking out nine Nationals in seven innings while allowing just the one run. Burnett, who was the National League leader in strikeouts for the month of April, had not been pitching as deep into games as he would like in large part due to the high pitch counts associated with throwing a lot of strikeouts. On Friday he matched his season high with the seven innings pitched (he also went seven in his last start at PNC Park against St. Louis) and threw fewer than 100 pitches for the first time since he hurled the ball 98 times against Chicago in the first game of the season.
“We were very efficient tonight,” Burnett said. “We mixed in changeups that we don’t normally throw and we got a few more strikeouts on fastballs and curveballs.”
Asked if he could have asked for anymore with a performance like the one he had Friday, Burnett said there was always room for improvement.
“I could take 15 (strikeouts),” he said. “I’m trying to keep up with (Texas’) Yu Darvish. He’s pretty filthy.”