PITTSBURGH, Pa. — After seeing their starting pitcher lefty Erik Bedard exit the game in the top of the second inning due to an injury, the bullpen knew they would have a tough task not only facing the Washington Nationals staff, but to provide eight innings of relief. But they stepped up and kept the club in the game.
“They’ve been very resilient. They’ve been very effective. They bent, but they didn’t break,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said.
“It just shows what our bullpen is able to do,” Outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “It really shows what kind of team you have.”
Bedard was removed from his seventh start of the season due to back spasms. Bedard needed just five pitches to retire the side in the first. After throwing a 1-2 pitch to former Bucco Adam LaRoche, Bedard stopped on the mound and twisted his torso as the Pirates trainers and Manager Clint Hurdle came to check on him. He was removed several minutes later.
Right-hander Brad Lincoln was called upon for long relief.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it,” Lincoln said of replacing Bedard due to injury. “It was kind of one of those things that it was actually good, because I had no time to think about getting into the game. You go in there and you give them what you got. That’s what I did tonight.”
“Talk about jump starting a guy,” Hurdle said. “I know guys are ready to play. But I don’t know if I’m a reliever if I’m going to be ready to go in the second inning. And to come in and pitch the way he did. He’s been very professional with his opportunities.”
Lincoln entered game action allowing just one run over his 11.1 innings from the bullpen this season. After tossing two perfect innings, Lincoln walked rookie Bryce Harper on five pitches with one-out in the fourth. With the shift on LaRoche, he hit a grounder to Pedro Alvarez, who was playing shallow right and fumbled the ball for an error. Harper scored the first run on a RBI single to right by Xavier Nady.
The run, however, was unearned, dropping Lincoln’s ERA to just 0.63 on the season. He allowed one hit over 3.0 innings with one walk and four punch outs. Lincoln threw 41 pitches, 30 strikes.
“Our bullpen has been a pretty strong unit back there,” closer Joel Hanrahan said. “We’re all pretty close. Lincoln has been throwing the ball amazing all year. No matter who goes in there, they put it on the line.”
The Pirates started a one-out rally off rookie right-hander Ross Detwiler in the third inning. Pitcher Brad Lincoln struck out, but reached first base on the wild pitch by Detwiler on the third strike.
“That’s just the game of baseball,” Lincoln said. “I tend to think I play the game hard. That’s how I play. That’s how things start.”
Jose Tabata followed by lining a changeup off the Nats starter’s leg for a single allowing Lincoln to advance to third base. Back-to-back RBI singles to right field by Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen quickly gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
McCutchen’s speed came into play with two outs. Casey McGehee hit an infield single to short, and McCutchen made the aggressive run from second on the infield single sliding into home for the third run of the frame.
“I was basically banking on him making the play to first base,” McCutchen said. “That’s basically what I was doing. I got to third and I was thinking he was going to throw it to first and I was just going to try to score on the throw. He hesitated a little bit and I guess it was just enough to score.”
“You have to at that point,” McCutchen said on kicking it into another gear from third to home. “It was one of those, we’ll I might as well go and I went and we’ll see what happens.”
“Andrew can do things that excite you,” Hurdle said. “Hopefully everybody sometime in their career has a player in their career that they play with that actually gets you up and gets you going. Andrew does that. You look at the play that he made in the three-run inning. You go, ‘Oh, No. No. No. Oh. What? Oh my. Look at that!’ It’s almost like once he realized the predicament that he put himself in, you talk about closing the gap. From when he turned third to sliding home. You just don’t see that. That got the guys excited.”
Following Lincoln from the bullpen was righty Jared Hughes. In his first inning of work, Hughes struck out the side swinging. He allowed one hit and a walk with a strikeout in his second inning of relief.
“We talk about hitting being contagious. The strikeouts seem to be contagious,” Hurdle said. “Hughes gave us two strong innings when we needed him. His evolution is in place. I like the man. I like the makeup. I like the arm. I like the sink at the end. Now, he’s reading swings a little bit. He’s feeding off the other guys. He’s been a very valuable asset out there for us.”
“Lincoln and Hughes were big keys to that ballgame.”
The Nationals tacked on a run off reliever Juan Cruz in the seventh. Danny Espinosa led off the inning with a double into left field. After advancing to third base on a wild pitch, Espinosa scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Chad Tracy. The run snapped Cruz’s 11.1 scoreless inning streak to start the season.
The eighth inning was an intense one to watch. Righty Jason Grilli came on for relief with a one-run lead. After retiring his first batter, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a double to the wall in right field. LaRoche was intentionally walked for the second time of the game and pinch-hitter Roger Bernandina drew a free pass to load the bases. Grilli whiffed Espinosa and Rick Ankiel swinging to leave the bases loaded.
“Our bullpen, you can’t say enough about them,” Hanrahan said. “I don’t think anybody complained about having to cover eight innings. They just went out there and did it.”
Andrew McCutchen took a 2-2 pitch from reliever Craig Stammen in the bottom of the eighth for a solo homer to left. It marked his second long ball in as many games. The All-Star center fielder went 4-for-4 at the plate with two RBI.
“It’s good to be able to give Joel a little insurance,” McCutchen said. “It was good to just get that extra run for him to he could breathe a little bit. It was good to get that hit as well.”
Like Grilli’s inning of work, Hanrahan’s was referred to as a “Hanrattack.”
“The guy at the end was trying to give us a ‘Hanrattack.’ That’s funny,” Hurdle said. “That’s probably the least efficient we’ve been with our pitches. We pitched ourselves into some nice tight corners tonight. They were able to get out of them.”
After blowing his first save of the season in the Bucs eventual 5-4 walkoff win on Tuesday night, Joel Hanrahan was able to bounce back from the rough outing and pick up his sixth save on the season. Hanrahan hit a batter and gave up a double to Ian Desmond, but closed the door with a 3-2 pitch to get Ryan Zimmerman swinging in the Pirates 4-2 win.
“I’m not sure how I got to that spot,” Hanrahan said of his last at-bat to end the game. “I don’t even remember what happened. It was a situation where I kind of lost control with what was going on out there. [catcher] Rod [Barajas] took control of it and told me to take some deep breaths. I just had to come after him…After a night like last night, you want to get right back out there. It was tough, but it was nice to get the job done. No matter how ugly it was.”
“Hats off to everybody,” Lincoln said. “Not only in the ‘pen, but offensively. We scored just enough to beat them.”