PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Growing up playing baseball, kids always dream of their first walk off hit. For rookie Matt Hague, his was not quite the way he envisioned it.
“No. But I’ll take it,” Hague said with a smile.
In the bottom of the ninth inning in a 2-2 tie, the first baseman came to the plate to face the Chicago Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis with the bases loaded and two outs. Having just being recalled from Triple-A the day before, Hague had less nerves at the plate and showed patience. After taking a first pitch fastball for a strike, Hague watched as the righty threw two straight balls.
“I think a lot of it was I spread out a little like I was in spring training,” Hague said. “I went over some film with [Hitting Coach Gregg] Ritchie. Pretty much just not trying to do too much and stay in my legs and kind of let my hands work…I went up there and I was going to take a strike no matter what. Make him come to me. That was kind of my intentions.”
The next pitch Hague fouled off to bring the count, 2-2. Dolis followed that up by throwing a 96-mph heater which hit Hague, giving the Pirates a 3-2 win in front of a sold out crowd at PNC Park.
“Just trying to put a tough at-bat together, and he ended up hitting me,” Hague said. “It hurt. I think once I hit first base and when people kept punching me right where I got hit, it didn’t feel good either.”
Despite getting drilled on his left side, Hague said he didn’t mind it.
“No. I love it. It’s fun,” said Hague, who will always remember his first Major League walkoff RBI came off a hit by pitch.
“Time will tell, but I felt he had a slower heart beat tonight,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I do think that getting back, the adrenaline, 15 innings the night before, coming back to the big leagues, in the lineup –that’s a lot. And he tried to handle it the best he could emotionally. He had some better swings tonight. Showed some patience.”
The Pirates rally in the ninth inning started after Jose Tabata led off with a single up the middle and Josh Harrison followed by drawing a five-pitch walk. With two outs, Neil Walker drew a walk to load the bases for rookie Matt Hague.
“We’ll take wins whenever we can get them,” Hurdle said. “Everybody will. It was the third time we loaded the bases and you’d like to think that would be the last time we needed to load the bases, push a run across…One run better than them.”
Correia Gives Up Two in Ninth Start
After tossing three scoreless innings, right-hander Kevin Correia gave up a two-out line drive homer just right of center field to Alfonso Soriano in the fourth. It ended the streak of 16 consecutive shutout innings for the Pirates pitching.
Correia gave up a second run in the fifth. After retiring his first two batters, David DeJesus doubled to right field. Starling Castro followed with a RBI triple off the Roberto Clemente wall to tie the game up at 2.
The Cubs attempted to rally in the seventh frame, but the Bucco bullpen got out of the jam. Correia gave up a one-out walk to Blake Lalli before Hurdle replaced him with lefty Tony Watson. Pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas hit a triple down the right field line. Lalli attempted to score on the hit, but the relay throw from Josh Harrison to Neil Walker to Rod Barajas nailed him out at the plate to keep the game tied at 2. Watson walked his next batter and Hurdle called upon righty Brad Lincoln, who struck out Castro swinging to strand the runners on the corners.
Overall, Correia allowed two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings. He walked two and struck out two while throwing 76 pitches, 49 strikes.
The Pirates scored two runs off former Bucco Paul Maholm. The lefty allowed two free passes, which came back to hurt him in the third inning. Jose Tabata was hit by a pitch to start the frame. After advancing to second on a sac bunt, Maholm chose to intentionally walk Andrew McCutchen to face the left-handed bat of Pedro Alvarez. After whiffing in his first at-bat, Alvarez connected for a RBI single into the gap in right center field to take a 1-0 lead. Neil Walker followed with a sac fly to right to plate the second run of the inning.
Bucco ‘Pen The Best Hurdle’s Had
It seems to be a repetitive story, but the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff continues to be impressive. So much in fact that Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle pointed out that the Bucco ‘pen is the best group of relievers he’s ever had over his 10-year Major League managerial career.
The Pirates ‘pen entered game action on Saturday with a combined 2.34 ERA, which is ranked No. 1 in the National League and No.2 in all of baseball. The only bullpen that has had more success than the Pirates has been the Texas Rangers, who sport a 2.08 ERA.
“It’s early. It’s the best bullpen I’ve ever had through May. Absolutely,” Hurdle said.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the relievers has been the fact that any of the six men (outside of the closer Joel Hanrahan) can pitch the late innings, high-leverage situations, whatever needed to get the ball to Hanrahan. Although Hurdle always bases his relievers on matchups, he said he’s comfortable using any arm in any situation.
“I think the beauty of it is, when you have this rotation of two days down, roles are going to switch,” Hurdle said. “That’s why you’ve seen these guys pitching in the different roles already this season. [If Juan] Cruz would throw today, he’s down tomorrow. Somebody will fill his role. [If Jason] Grilli pitches today, somebody fills his role. I think that’s what we’ve already seen.”
“They’ve gained some experience doing it because you need to find out if they can do it. Just because they don’t do it initially, I think you need to get the ball to them just to check the temperature because the first time can be a little different. It’s not the same inning. The sixth inning is not the eighth inning. A lot of people within our industry disagree with that. These men that play the game, I know it’s different. You can watch. I’ve seen it for years. Some thrive, some don’t. Some you want to keep in their comfort zones. Right now with the way our guys are pitching, I’m pretty comfortable using all of them across the board whatever situation I feel that needs to be filled.”
Grilli Catching Attention Within the Industry
Right-handed reliever Jason Grilli has been impressive out of the bullpen this season. Grilli has whiffed seven straight batters over his last three appearances. Overall this season, Grilli has a combined 33 punchouts over 19.0 innings. Even Hurdle, who managed Grilli in Colorado, didn’t see him becoming such a swing and miss guy.
“Nobody did. I don’t think,” Hurdle said.
After striking out the side in the seventh inning in the Pirates 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Grilli lowered his season ERA to just 2.00. He’s been scored upon just twice in the month of May (one earned) over 10 innings.
“There’s no doubt when pitchers get on the mound, I think there’s a lot of times in their mind the battle has already been won or lost. Or there’s going to be a battle,” Hurdle said.”I think he’s in the place that, you know what? He’s out. I’m going to get him.”
“Right now he’s very confident. His fastball is playing. To expect it to play out like this throughout the season? I’m not going to go there. We’ve got a long way to go. What you saw last year was him pitching 30-some innings for us. We’ve talked about that. Him maintaining his arm strength with the appearances and things. But right now, I would have never told you that he was going to be striking out the amount of guys that he’s striking out. I thought he could be efficient. I thought he could fill the eighth inning role. But what he’s done right now has caught the attention of a lot of people within our industry.”
Karstens Makes Second Rehab Start
Right-hander Jeff Karstens made his second rehab start tonight, his first for Triple-A Indianapolis. Karstens allowed five runs (three earned) on two hits over 4.1 frames. He walked two and struck out two while throwing 59 pitches, 31 strikes without issue.
Karstens retired his first 12 batters. Then the righty allowed all five runs on two hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in his final inning of work. The goal was for Karstens to reach the 60 pitch mark.
Karstens was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 18 due to right shoulder inflammation.