PITTSBURGH, PA — Manager Clint Hurdle has been patient with several players throughout the season. He’s shown patience with Pedro Alvarez. Even when he was bumped out of the cleanup spot and benched for a few days for his swing, the club didn’t send him to Triple-A. They showed patience that he would work himself out of his slump. And he’s done just that driving in nine runs over his last four games while belting out four long balls.
The Pirates have also been patient with veteran shortstop Clint Barmes and catcher Rod Barajas, both of whom were struggling for the first two months of the season but have since been swinging a hot bat.
Hurdle said the patience would continue with a former first round pick by Pittsburgh in Brad Lincoln.
Given the opportunity to shuffle the lineup due to the off day in the schedule, or bring up a prospect from Triple-A to spot start in the rotation, Hurdle said they wanted to give Lincoln another opportunity to prove he can be a Major League starter.
“Brad is going to get the ball for Saturday,” Hurdle said prior to the game on Wednesday.
Lincoln struggled in his last start against the Indians in Cleveland and was pulled after allowing four runs on nine hits over 3.1 innings. Over his last three starts since joining the rotation from the bullpen, Lincoln has allowed 14 runs on 23 hits over just 11.2 innings — good for an 11.25 ERA.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Hurdle said. “The results haven’t necessarily been what we’ve wanted, but I think we need to give this young man a chance to channel through the transition period, which isn’t as easy as some people might think it is. With the premium in this game placed on starting pitching, we want to make sure we give it an ample opportunity to see what we might be able to see by extended looks. He has put in the work and the effort, the preparation. I think we have continued to show patience in a lot of different areas and this is just another one we’re going to show a little more patience to.”
In relief, the right-hander was very efficient — striking out 23 batters over 20.0 innings while giving up just one earned run (0.45 ERA). Since given the opportunity to remain in the rotation, continuing to stretch out could benefit Lincoln.
“I do think it’s him nailing down a mentality and a commitment in which he goes about his opportunity to start. To make the pitches he needs to make with the focus that he needs to have. Not to start innings, but also to finish innings,” Hurdle said.
Bedard Bounces Back After Rough June
Left-hander Erik Bedard bounced back on Wednesday night at PNC Park after posting a 9.00 ERA over his first three starts in June. The damage came on the road in Milwaukee and Baltimore when Bedard allowed 12 runs over 7.0 innings combined in the two starts. Bedard was able to hold the Twins to just one run over six frames in the 2-1 loss.
Bedard struggled in the first inning needing 27 pitches to escape the frame. After retiring his first two batters, Bedard gave up a double to the left field wall. He followed the extra base hit with a walk before Trevor Plouffe sailed an 0-1 fastball for an RBI single into right center field. The lefty walked his second batter of the inning to reload the bases, but Jamey Carroll lined out to Bedard, who made a quick grab to end the inning.
The lefty settled down after the first frame and retired nine straight before giving up a single to Carroll with two-outs in the fourth inning and overall retired 16 of his final 19 batters to end his 14th start of the season.
“I asked Garrett [Jones] what we pulled out of the water cooler down there in the tunnel after the first inning,” Hurdle said. “What he went to? And man. The game’s so funny sometimes.”
So what was in the water cooler for Bedard to pitch so efficient after the first?
“Uhh…water?,” Bedard said laughing.
Overall, Bedard allowed just one run on four hits over six innings. He walked two and whiffed seven while throwing 97 pitches, 64 strikes. Of the seven strikeouts, four of them were looking.
“I just threw pitches and they hit it to guys on the team,” Bedard said of what changed from the first inning on. “The first inning, they hit it into the gap and after that they hit it to our guys. I didn’t change anything…I got quick outs in the first. I just couldn’t get the last out. I kept throwing strikes and I got some guys out..It was a good step forward. Just disappointing that we didn’t win.”
“For the five innings after that, everything came together,” Hurdle said. “Better arm speed, better velocity, threw all his pitches for strikes, spun the ball exceptionally well, threw everything for strikes. That variation and gap of speed got in a really good place for him…He really pitched well…He got to a real good place and it was good to see. He was so sharp the last five innings and it was very encouraging.”
Liriano Silences Pirates Hot Bats
The Pirates offense exploded during the month of June, the club scoring 83 runs, which is ranked third-best in the National League. Over their past three games, the Pirates bats have pounded out 25 runs to the opposing teams nine. But on Wednesday night, their bats cooled off.
“It’s easy to talk about patience, and it’s hard to explain, but if you’ve ever had to hit that slider — it’s hard,” Hurdle said. “He’s got one of those sliders like Steve Carlton had where out of his hand it looks like a strike, and then the last five feet you just lose it. But he’s throwing a lot of strikes. We tried to show some patience…He pitched an exceptional ballgame…This guy was much better than we have seen previously.”
Twins lefty Francisco Liriano held the Pirates to just three hits over his first six innings before the club was finally able to get a run off him in the seventh in the one-run game. Pedro Alvarez was plunked by a pitch from Liriano. Clint Barmes followed that with a base hit and Michael McKenry drew a free pass to load the bases.
Hurdle called upon Rod Barajas from the bench and hit a hard liner to center field, but Denard Span made a fantastic diving catch to rob him of a hit. The catcher settled for a sac fly to score Alvarez and tie the game up at 1.
The Pirates lost their lead after Jason Grilli gave up an 0-1 solo homer to Josh Willingham in the eighth inning. The earned run was just the third allowed from Grilli over his last 19.0 innings (1.42 ERA).
Karstens Feels Ready Now, But Will Make One More Rehab Start
Right-hander Jeff Karstens cruised through his rehab outing with Double-A Altoona on Tuesday. Karstens allowed one run on six hits over seven frames. He walked one and struck out five while throwing just 78 pitches, 59 for strikes.
“I thought it went pretty well. It’s not where I need to be. Obviously not on the roster I need to be on. I don’t dictate that,” Karstens said. “I felt that I had really good stuff in Pawtucket and last night. I didn’t really lose much from taking that time off. I felt in a good place on the mound. It’s not in my hands. That’s the crappy part about it…All I can do is prepare myself.”
Hurdle said that Karstens is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen on Thursday. If he feels good, then Karstens will make his final rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis.
“If he’s able to throw the bullpen tomorrow, and he feels good, I think he will be penciled in to start on Sunday, which would put him on a five-day rotation,” Hurdle said. “If he needs another day, we’re still open to that, we’ll push him back to Monday.”
Karstens was placed on the disabled list on April 18 with right shoulder inflammation, but injured his hip flexor during a rehab start on June 1.
Top Prospects Making Anticipated Debuts
Right-hander Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh’s first round pick (No. 1 overall) in the 2011 draft made his Double-A debut on Wednesday night in Altoona. Cole allowed two runs over five innings while striking out six.
Righty Luis Heredia, another top pitching prospect in the system, will make his State College debut on Thursday. The 17-year-old will face a tough challenge in Low-A ball facing college hitters several years older.
“It’s good for the organization,” Hurdle said on their debuts. “This is part of the process of player development and players doing well enough to earn opportunities to move forward. We want our players to have a mindset to force movement. Not just to put in time and to move like in College, where your grades are okay to go up to the next grade.”
“We like them to challenge themselves, to get competitive with it, to get engaged and embrace the competition level they’re at, to get to a place where they are repeating deliveries, repeating swings, repeating performnces where they start standing out. They build confidence and then they become the better players in that league. And when they do, then it’s up to us to make the moves at the appropriate times to re-challenge them.”
Watson Continues to Dominate Right-handed Bats
Tony Watson may be a left-handed reliever, but he’s more than just a left-on-left guy out of the bullpen. Watson has held right-handed hitters to just a .147 average this season while allowing just three earned runs over his last 13.1 innings (2.03 ERA). Watson’s 31 inherited runners this season are tied for the most in the big leagues.
“Nothing’s changed,” Hurdle said. “He uses that fastball to his glove side extremely well. He can throw the breaking ball to their back foot. That’s one thing that Tony brought with him up here. We tried to encourage him to also add in the changeup from time to time to get them off that. He’s actually been more effective against right-handed hitters than he has left-handed hitters in his short Major League stay.”