In the 6th inning on Tuesday night, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a decision to make.
Starting pitcher Jeff Locke had just made his 103rd pitch, and it was lined by Atlanta Braves’ second baseman Dan Uggla into left for a two-out single. With right-handed-hitting B.J. Upton up to bat and Locke about to tie his career high for most pitches in one game, Hurdle dipped into the bullpen for righty Ryan Reid to maintain the Bucs’ two-run lead.
The lead disappeared in four pitches. Reid, in his second Major League game, served up a fastball that missed his spot low and outside and instead left it over the plate. Upton destroyed it to just left of straight-away center. Tie game. In fact, all the runs came on homers and doubles, which is like, such a Braves vs. Pirates thing to happen.
- 2nd inning: Gaby Sanchez wrecks a pitch from starter Mike Minor, but it’s pulled just to the left of the left-field foul pole. Doesn’t matter. Sanchez blasts another fastball right down the middle over the fence to put the Pirates up 1-0.
- 3rd inning: The Pirates’ run production has been hampered by their .219 average with runners in scoring position being dead-last in the NL. Regression to the mean, meet Andrew McCutchen facing a lefty. McCutchen roped a curveball down the left-field line, scoring Jeff Locke and Jordy Mercer from scoring position to make it a 3-0 lead. But regression to the mean runs both ways. In the Bottom 3rd, Locke was a strike away from stranding two more runners. Instead, Freddie Freeman (who battled for great at-bats all night) reached out and flipped a curveball tailing low and away and dropped it down the left-field line to drive in two runs.
- 4th inning: Pedro Alvarez was the only left-handed position player starting against the lefty Minor, and he showed why. Minor left a belt-high fastball outside, and Alvarez demolished it for a solo shot, his team-high 12th home run.
Jeff Locke pitched pretty well in striking out seven Braves hitters over 5.2 innings despite allowing six hits and two walks, dropping his season FIP to 3.93 from 4.13. He was just a pitch to Freeman and Reid giving up the 6th-inning homer away from another shutout start. Instead, his scoreless streak ended at 22 innings and he could not get the victory.
Opposing starter Mike Minor was strong too, as only two of his four runs were earned and striking out six hitters in six innings. The Braves’ bullpen combined for four scoreless innings and allowed only one hit. In fact, the Pirates could only collect five hits all night. They have now averaged fewer than seven hits per game over the last week. It’s an arbitrary endpoint, but the offense needs to break out to support some of the very good pitching it is receiving.
In fairness, the Pirates’ bullpen was not at its league-leading best. First there was Reid allowing the game-tying home run. Then in the 8th, Tony Watson walked the bases loaded (though one was intentional) and only escaped by getting Andrelton Simmons to ground out. Jason Grilli gave up a single to Justin Upton with one out in the 9th. Next batter Freddie Freeman ripped a fastball down the middle very, very far, but McCutchen was there on the warning track to make the catch. Exhale once. After walking Brian McCann, Grilli struck out Ramiro Pena to send it to extras.
Despite ROOT Sports showing footage from the 19-inning Jerry Meals game, this contest would only go 10. Mark Melancon was the victim of some bad ball calls in allowing a leadoff walk. Look here at pitches 1 and 4:
Leadoff "walk" pic.twitter.com/mRQdckmAa2
— Brian McElhinny (@rtjr) June 5, 2013
After striking out B.J. Upton, pinch-hitter Reed Johnson crowded the plate and drew a hit by pitch. More bad luck for Melancon. Simmons ended it with a long double over the drawn-in Travis Snider, his third hit of the evening, and now the Pirates have lost four of their last five games. The team’s run differential and other factors show that some regression from being 12 games over .500 was due, and losing a one-run game like Tuesday’s exemplifies it. The offense needs to string some hits together to prevent an Atlanta sweep.