That was the worst game the Pirates have played all season. Pittsburgh pitchers surrendered a season-high 17 hits in the 10-o loss, continuing the struggle after allowing 15 base hits Wednesday night.
Starter Matt Cain and the Giants held the Bucs’ lineup to three hits after it totaled 18 hits on the previous two San Francisco starting pitchers.
“We got to see the real good Matt Cain tonight,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, calling Cain “a guy to hang your hat on if you want to patent yourself after a guy.”
He wasn’t the Matt Cain that struck out 14 hitters for the most K’s in a perfect game exactly one year ago, but he did hold the Pirates to just two hits and two walks over 6.2 shutout innings.
Zagurski Gets Zapped For Four
The majority of the Giants’ offensive damage was inflicted on Mike Zagurski, who came on in relief of Charlie Morton in the 6th.
Leadoff hitter Nick Noonan reached on a bounding bunt single and moved to second on Neil Walker’s throwing error. Cain grounded out, then Gregor Blanco hit a diamond-cutter ground ball for the first RBI of the inning. Brandon Crawford laced a single to center, and McCutchen tried to throw out Blanco, who was taking a wide turn off second. Instead, Blanco kept running, took third base and then scored on Posey’s shallow RBI single.
Hunter Pence followed by knocking a three-run home run and Brandon Belt looped a double into the left field grass. Zagurski only escaped by striking out Andres Torres and getting Joaquin Arias to ground out, increasing his season ERA to 15.00 on the six-hit, five-run inning that put the Giants ahead 9-0.
“He threw strikes,” Hurdle said, 16 of them over 23 pitches. “But he left the ball up and over the plate and he got hit.”
Pirates reliever Ryan Reid gave up two hits over his two shutout innings. Vin Mazzaro, who Hurdle was hoping not to use, allowed two hits and the 10th run. Nick Noonan thought he had hit his first MLB home run off Mazzaro, but video review showed it had hit the yellow line on top of the right-center-field fence.
All Right, Let’s Get To Morton
The Pirates’ poor performance overshadowed Morton’s rather solid debut.
- Morton got 7 swings-and-misses on his 19 curveballs, including four strikeouts of left-handed-hitting Brandon Belt and Andres Torres the first two times the pair came up to bat.
“I was really impressed with how good his curveball was today,” catcher Michael McKenry said, without being prompted about the curve. “I know he hit two guys with it, but how good his breaking ball was was really, really impressive… He’s got an electric breaking ball.”
- He had better control of his sinker after the first inning, throwing it 30 times for strikes and 16 times for balls from the second inning onward. That’s basically two strikes out of three, which was his strike percentage with the pitch the last two years.
“Fastball command has been his area that, when he nails it, that’s when he’s good,” Hurdle said. “That’s when he’s efficient… We’ve got to get more balls in the strike zone.”
- After walking the first batter of the game, Morton did not allow any more walks the rest of his start and pitched into just 3 three-ball counts over his next 24 hitters. Credit his sinker command.
“I think the action on the pitch was good, and I think overall the location was really good. It was down. It will just get better. It’s so hard to determine where it’s gonna be.”
- Morton’s second pitch of the game was 97 miles per hour and his fastball speed remained over 94 mph the rest of the game. Was he surprised he hit 97?
“Noooo,” Morton emphasized. “I like looking up and looking at the movement moreso than velocity, if I do look up. I’m more interested in vertical, horizontal movement than velocity. But if I can amp it up in the mid-90s, it’s great.”
Hurdle appeared to be impressed by the speed coming off Tommy John surgery.
“It’s kind of crazy how that surgery works out, where some guys get some extra miles per hour when they come back,” Hurdle said.
- Morton started the game “overamped,” as Hurdle put it. He walked leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco on five pitches, hit Brandon Crawford with the next pitch, then gave up and RBI single. Three batters, no outs.
“He was throwing real hard. He was amped up,” McKenry said. “At the same time, he was a little timid. The last time he was out there in a Major League stadium, really bad things happened, a big flash of his whole life went by real fast.”
- Despite getting whiffs with his curveball, he also hit two batters with it in the 5th inning. Crawford, the first hit batsman, came around to score the third Giants’ run.
“It’s a little inconsistent,” Morton said. “For how many curves I threw, it was pretty good. Got some swing-and-misses, got some strikes. It was just like, unfortunately, the couple that I did throw, that did get away from me ended up letting guys on. And that’s as good as a hit.”
- Morton allowed seven hits over his five innings of work, probably more than he would have liked. However, of the 12 groundballs Morton drew, 6 of them went for singles (hat-tip to Bucs Dugout’s David Manel). The only hard hit was Buster Posey’s book-rule double 400 feet to the North Shore Notch in the 5th inning.
In the end, only two of the Giants’ four runs off Morton were charged to the starter. His ERA got the benefit of a Pedro Alvarez error. Umpires ruled Alvarez obstructed Brandon Crawford during a rundown between third base and home plate in the 5th. Crawford was out of the baseline, in the grass, but was allowed to score because he had to avoid Alvarez coming back to third base.
Hurdle has plenty of decisions to make in setting his future rotation. As it stands, Morton, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are the only four healthy starters. James McDonald continues to rehab. Wandy Rodriguez can return as early as June 21 from the disabled list, and A.J. Burnett can return after June 24. So what did Hurdle think of Morton’s debut as he prepares for some possible, but not certain, tough decisions?
“For being out a year, first time back on a Major League mound, I think there’s some things we can definitely work with,” Hurdle said.
As for Morton, back in the game with the scar still showing on his elbow one year after tearing his UCL…
“I wasn’t looking for this start to validate what I had gone through in the rehab,” Morton said. “I wasn’t looking for this start to come back and say ‘I’m back. This is the new me.’
“It’s a part of the process, a long process. We’re talking a year, and that’s a lot.”