After Monday’s game — which saw Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman throw near Neil Walker’s head in the ninth inning — many Pirates fans were looking for retaliation. They got just that in the first inning when Charlie Morton hit Shin-Soo Choo right below the knee with his first pitch of the game. That led to a warning from the home plate umpire, and drew the ire of Mat Latos in the Reds’ dugout, but the Reds didn’t retaliate.
Perhaps the better retaliation for the Pirates came in the top half of the first inning when they put up three runs on Latos. Starling Marte led off the game with a triple, stretching the play on an ill-advised run from second as the relay was coming in. Brandon Phillips threw a two hop relay to third, giving Marte enough time to slide in safely. He scored the first run when Russell Martin reached on an infield single to shortstop as Joey Votto was unable to scoop the low throw. Martin avoided another out stealing second as he made some Matrix style moves to avoid the tag. With the bases loaded, Pedro Alvarez took an 0-2 fastball to the opposite field to bring in two more runs.
The Pirates added one more run in the seventh inning off Curtis Partch. After that first inning they struggled against Latos, who finished with nine strikeouts in five innings. Strikeouts were the theme of the night for the offense, as the Reds pitchers combined to strike out 17 batters. The Pirates managed ten of their own to counter that, and pull off the 4-0 victory for the best retaliation you could ask for.
Morton Excellent, But Why the Early Hook?
Charlie Morton was excellent tonight, going 5.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits. More importantly he didn’t walk anyone, showing better control than he has in the past. Morton’s curve and sinker both looked great tonight, with the sinker mostly sitting 92-94 MPH and leading to a 7:2 GO/AO ratio.
One questionable call came in the sixth inning when Morton was pulled after throwing only 61 pitches. With one out, Morton struck out Zack Cozart, but the ball got past Russell Martin, putting a runner on. Clint Hurdle went to Tony Watson to face Joey Votto, despite the fact that Morton was pitching well and only had 61 pitches on the night. Watson gave up a double to Votto, putting runners on second and third with one out. He got out of the jam with a key strikeout against Brandon Phillips, and a groundout back to the mound against Jay Bruce.
A lot of people disagreed with Morton being a lock for the rotation. As it worked out, the Pirates didn’t have any other choice when it came time for him to be added to the roster. However, he’s back to his old “electric stuff” in the last two starts. The sinker and curve — his two best pitches, and two pitches he couldn’t throw last year due to his injury — have both been extremely effective. He is definitely showing that he belongs in the rotation, and throughout his rehab starts and his first two outings in the majors he has looked more like the successful 2011 version rather than the injured 2012 version.
Melancon and Grilli’s Usage
If you want to make a game shorter this year, just go to Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli for the final two innings. That said, it was a bit questionable to go to those two in the eighth and ninth innings of a 4-0 game, especially when so many concerns have been brought up about both pitchers being used too much this year.
Melancon pitched three games in a row over the weekend, then had Monday off, so it’s not like he needed the work. Grilli pitched on Friday and Sunday, and also didn’t really need the work. It’s good that those two guys shut down the game, and with the Pirates and Reds projected to battle it out in the Wild Card matchup in the early projections, any win against Cincinnati is good. But if you’re looking to reduce the amount of innings and work these two are getting, then tonight would have been the perfect night to go to someone like Vin Mazzaro for an inning or two. Hopefully this doesn’t cost the Pirates when they need these two later in the week for a game that is closer than tonight’s four run lead.
**It’s good to see Starling Marte starting to heat up again. He went 2-for-5 tonight, and in his last seven games he is 10-for-31 (.323). Marte had been in a slump throughout the month of May, after being a huge spark for the Pirates offense in the month of April.
**It’s also good to see the Pirates win a game where they clearly weren’t playing their best. The score was 4-0, but the offense really only capitalized on that first inning, then struggled after Latos settled down. They’ve been winning a lot of games with pitching, and with the offense scoring just enough runs to take the lead. Eventually they’re going to need the offense to step up on a more consistent basis. That’s why it’s good to see Marte hitting lately. It’s also good that Pedro Alvarez is batting .286 with three homers over his last ten games. And outside of his 0-for-4 with two strikeouts tonight, Andrew McCutchen seems to be heating up with a .378 average in his last ten games.
**Down in the minors, Jeanmar Gomez was scheduled to make a rehab start today, but Indianapolis was rained out. That will delay any challengers to Morton’s rotation spot, although Brandon Cumpton will be at risk before Morton’s spot is discussed. And like I said above, if Morton keeps pitching the way he’s been pitching all year, then he’ll be a better option than Gomez or James McDonald. The real question will come if A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Locke are all healthy and performing at the same time. The Pirates would have a difficult choice between Morton and Gerrit Cole if both continue to perform in that scenario. We talked about this topic last week on the Pirates Prospects Podcast.