Pirates Lose 4-2 in 16 Innings as Offense Flounders

Kris Johnson

Kris Johnson was given a tough assignment for his MLB debut — Keep the game tied in six different innings. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Kris Johnson was the man who least deserved to be charged with the loss and make the final out of the Pirates’ 16-inning home defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In his Major League debut, the left-hander pitched five scoreless innings of relief and allowed only one baserunner into scoring position over those frames. But the rookie gave up a walk and line-drive single in the 16th, then Arizona’s Adam Eaton knocked an two-RBI double (his career-high fourth hit) just in front of sliding center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

Kris Johnson

Johnson gave the Pirates’ offense five chances to win. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

“I wish I would have made a better pitch,” Johnson said, calling McCutchen’s effort to catch the possible inning-ender “outstanding.”

In the Bottom 16th, Johnson came up to bat with two outs and the tying run on base, but J.J. Putz struck him out swinging to close the Diamondbacks’ series victory.

“We had nobody else on the bench, so there’s really nothing you could have done,” Johnson said, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he did not want to risk Gerrit Cole getting hurt as a hitter.

No, the fault for the Bucs’ loss (their third straight in extra-inning games) lies in the offense not scoring at all after the 3rd inning. More on that after we detail another great pitching performance.

Morton Provides Great Start

The Pirates would likely not have even gotten into extras had it not been for Charlie Morton pitching so well. Morton struck out his first four hitters, freezing three on his sharp breaking ball. Then he got 10 of his last 24 hitters to ground out for the quality start. The right-handed sinker-baller located well, getting 25 called strikes over his seven innings.

“I’ve been getting good results on my curveball,” Morton said. “I did get ahead. But I don’t think my command was any better, necessarily, than it was. Maybe just more aggressive initially and early in at-bats.”

Charlie Morton

Morton has kept opponents to two runs in each of his last three starts. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

After allowing only three hits (on 61 pitches) in the first five innings, Morton needed a little ground-ball luck to dance through each of his final two frames. Adam Eaton and Martin Prado led off the 6th with back-to-back singles, then MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt walked on four pitches. Aaron Hill followed with a bases-loaded RBI single to cut the Pirates’ lead to 2-1, and it looked like big trouble for Morton.

But Morton, as he does, drew a ground-ball double play for the second straight inning (a run scored from third base) then another ground ball to keep Arizona from going ahead.

“The game could have gotten on the other side for him, and he didn’t let it,” Hurdle said. “The breaking ball is coming into play more and more prominently… None of those guys hit many balls up the middle.”

With the game still tied 2-2 in the 7th, Morton returned on 78 pitches to walk leadoff man Didi Gregorius and let a Tuffy Gosewisch ground-ball single sneak through. After Wade Miley’s bunt, Morton hit Adam Eaton with a 1-2 fastball to load the bases again. The pitching coach visited, but Hurdle kept Morton in to draw a Prado lineout and strike out Goldschmidt swinging. The sold-out crowd of 37,518 cheered and rose to applaud Morton’s fine start (7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K).

“[Hurdle] has let me finish innings where it could have gone either way,” Morton said. “I do appreciate that.”

Offense Does Not Create

Tony Watson pitched a scoreless 8th and 9th, Mark Melancon a scoreless 10th and Kris Johnson a scoreless 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th. It was Johnson’s Major League debut, and it came in the extra innings of a tie game for a team in an important game for its playoff odds.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking at first. We’re in a pennant race,” Johnson said. “I just tried to go as deep as I could, try to save the bullpen. That was the main thing.”

Hurdle said of Johnson’s 82-pitch outing: “You couldn’t ask him for anything more than he did, other than find a way to win that game.” Problem was, the Pirates offense had averaged only four runs per nine innings since the All-Star Break, and they could not get anybody home.

Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-6 at the plate, starting against left-hander Wade Miley. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates scored in the first and third innings via RBI doubles from Russell Martin and Neil Walker. After that, the Bucs collected only six hits over the final 13 innings. The middle of the lineup of Andrew McCutchen, Martin and Pedro Alvarez combined to go 1-for-17 (though McCutchen drew three walks). The Bucs went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners aboard.

There was also a curious manager’s decision in the 8th inning. Starling Marte led off by reaching on a bunt single. At that point, Hurdle had a few options with only six outs left in the regular innings:

  • Allow Marte (35-for-47 in stolen bases) to steal second on rookie catcher Tuffy Gosewisch
  • Let Jordy Mercer hit-and-run to avoid a potential double play
  • Let Mercer swing away against laboring LHP Wade Miley, as Mercer has a.975 OPS in his young career against lefties
  • Generally don’t take the bat out of the hands of Andrew McCutchen (career .332 with a .995 OPS vs. lefties)
  • Have Mercer bunt for the inning’s first out. Miley will intentionally walk McCutchen to get to Martin.

Hurdle chose the bunt, and the Pirates’ win expectancy dropped. Why pick the bunt? His response in full:

“I felt that we could push an opportunity to get Russell Martin to the plate to swing to win the game, and Pedro Alvarez. Unfortunately, we never got to Pedro. But the walk to Cutch, that’s not unexpected. But you give Martin a chance to win the game, and you’re gonna get Pedro a chance to win the game.”

Andrew McCutchen

Pittsburgh’s best hitter was not given the chance to bat with the go-ahead run on base in the 8th. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

MVP candidate McCutchen was intentionally walked, Martin struck out and Marte was thrown out trying to swipe third base.

Pittsburgh’s offense got other chances with runners in scoring position: Tony Sanchez struck out to end the 9th, Martin flew out to right to end the 12th, then Johnson struck out to end the 16th and the game.

So the Pirates head to the West Coast after losing two of three to both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Diamondbacks, placing the Bucs just one game ahead in the NL Central and 7.5 games ahead of the D-Backs fighting to get in the playoff picture.

They will either carry an atypical 13 pitchers in San Diego or San Francisco or add a hitter. That fact is more important than your typical roster procedure news.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    Would have felt a lot better with a 9.5 game lead over the d-backs with 39 games to go than a 7.5 game lead. It wasn’t long ago it was a 11 game lead. Hoping for Liriano’s best, it is definitely needed.

  • Bucco_Joe

    Will Neal make a move to add something to this punchless offense, or just sit back and watch the ship sink???

  • CalipariFan506

    Joe I don’t know what you think can be done by Huntington before August 31.

    The ship is indeed sinking though. The deniers are just trying to make themselves feel better. 85 wins is a great season though and I expect about a 13-26 finish to get there.

    • Bucco_Joe

      Their options are limited to say the least. They should have made a move before the July 31st deadline, even if it required one of their top 4 prospects to get it done. I can’t believe the organization felt they could survive 162 games with this anemic offense. Their goal must have been to get past 82 wins to end the losing streak, and if they managed to get into the playoffs that was a bonus.

  • leadoff

    The Core of this team needs to carry it, not some rent a player, if they are not good enough going down the stretch that will be an issue that can only be addressed in the off-season. I can’t figure out why people let the core off the hook and keep looking for artificial cures.
    There was no savior out there, the team we have is the team we have, live with it.
    This team was good enough on its own to get 24-25 games over 500, if they can’t sustain it, that is a totally other issue, it could involve breaking up this team or simply making a few good off-season moves, tough to tell how management will take another swoon, but it looks likely, Other teams are gunning for them, something they don’t see early in the year, witness St.Louis changing their rotation just for the Pirates. Look at the managing against them these days, managers using every move they can think of to shut the Bucs down, they have not risen to those challenges yet. The schedule is brutal for them and that does make a difference.

  • emjayinTN

    James: Somewhere in the report we have to realize that after Martin’s double in the 1st inning, our 3 thru 6 batters combined to go 0 for 22 the rest of the game.

    On the bunt/no bunt, Tabata had just been picked off the previous inning by Miley who I think balks on his best move to 1B. On that move, he starts moving his shoulders forward and then steps to 1st. Tabata saw the shoulder move toward the plate and was in his secondary lead when Miley threw over and picked him off. Marte is fast, but he would not have gotten any type of jump – the bunt was the smart move. With runners at 1B and 2B, you have to trust that Martin will at least put the ball in play – he did not and Marte was dead at 3B on a double steal attempt.

  • IC Bob

    Still not to late to add an impact bat. Lets see what we do. Cannot continue to trot out Jones at First. he just kil000ls us and Pedros success rate against lefties is brutal and just makes for a nice late game switch by opposing a mangers. Its pretty sad when I root for Mercer to come up with the game on the line.