Brandon Cumpton suffocated the Phillies for five innings. Groundout after groundout prevented Philadelphia from having any players bat with a runner in scoring position. He got 13 of his first 15 outs on four pitches or fewer. Cumpton, once again, put the Pirates in a place to win.
But he could not finish what he started in the Tuesday night 3-1 loss that snapped a nine-game Pirates winning streak. In the 6th inning, a seeing-eye single then a bloop single were the precursors to three hard-hit balls and suddenly the Phillies were leading by three.
A three-run inning hurts, but it only kills if you can’t scare up three runs yourself. The Pirates got two prime opportunities to thrill the baseball-focused crowd of 30,301 fans at PNC Park. The first: Three straight hitters at the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup reached base in the 3rd inning, but Garrett Jones swung and missed three Jonathan Pettibone fastballs to leave them stranded.
“He hit his spots pretty well today,” Jones said. “Hitting the corners, mixing in his four-seamer when I was looking sinker… He came after hitters.”
Cumpton also hit his spots well for eight groundouts over five shutout innings , allowing just two hits, one walk and one hit-by-pitch. Over his three MLB starts, the right-hander has allowed just two runs in innings 1-through-5. Pitching coach Ray Searage told the spot starter he did a “hell of a job” and his manager was similarly complimentary of Cumpton, who was called up earlier in the day.
“He continues to come in and throw strikes, be aggressive,” Clint Hurdle said. “I think the fastball got up on him a little bit [in the 6th] and the slider lost its angle a little bit.”
Though he came into that 6th inning with just 72 pitches, Cumpton’s third time through the Phillies lineup was a struggle. He got into three straight 1-0 counts, then “left some pitches up” to give up three straight RBI’s to Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown and Delmon Young.
“I’m going to build off those first five innings, try to not think about the 6th,” Cumpton said. “Just try to get better at them, attack the strike zone with a little more strikes in that 6th inning.”
After Andrew McCutchen grounded into a double play in the Bottom 6th, Jones provided the only Pirates run by smashing one of Pettibone’s four-seamers into the right-center field seats to make the score 3-1. Though he was removed after giving up the home run, Pettibone was on his pitching game, allowing just two other hits for singles and notching six strikeouts.
Once Pettibone exited, a new episode of the Charlie Manuel Show debuted. The Phillies manager used six of his seven relievers to seal the victory, none of them throwing more than 16 pitches.
In the 8th, rookie J.C. Ramirez walked Russell Martin (his third BB of the night) and nearly gave up the game-tying home run to McCutchen. Manuel yanked him for left-hander Antonio Bastardo with two lefties and unremarkable right-handed-hitting Neil Walker due up. Pinch-hitter Brandon Inge batted for Jones (Hurdle cited Jones striking out his last two times facing Bastardo) and struck out swinging. Pedro Alvarez walked and Walker hit a line-drive single to chase Bastardo, but Martin was wisely held at first.
Young righty Justin De Fratus entered to face Jordy Mercer with the bases loaded and struck him out with a slider. Jonathan Papelbon finished it off with a 1-2-3 save.
“We were able to get him to make some moves,” Hurdle said. “The moves worked for them.”
So after writing out W’s for the last nine games, and despite getting three more shutout innings from the bullpen, the Pirates have to mark down an “L.” Still, Pittsburgh maintains baseball’s best record and sends sharp young pitchers Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole the next two days to try to avoid its first series loss since June 5.
Their are lots of opportunities to improve this teams offense. I understand Inge is great locker room presence but its time to go. Their will be plenty of opportunities to upgrade right field it really comes down to what we want to offer to get it. As deep as the system is suppose to be we should have no problem satisfying another teams need while not touching our top 10 prospects. I personally would love Stanton but I would not trade our top two prospects and more for him. I think Rios would be great I think there will be many others out there that could significantly upgrade the position for the price of a bag of baseballs.
The Pirates definitely need an offensive upgrade desperately, and NO, not a Tabata type upgrade. A real established major league hitter or 2. This offense goes from 60 to 0 in the blink of an eye and unfortunately they spend more time at 0 than 60. The last 3 games have been horrible offensively, thank goodness for the insane pitching. Some better bench options would be nice also.
“Brandon Inge batted for Jones (Hurdle cited Jones striking out his last two times facing Bastardo) and struck out swinging.”
So does this mean that Inge will never bat again, since he struck out his last time facing a major league pitcher?
Hurdle lost this game on two counts. First of all, not having the bullpen ready in the 6th inning (third time through the lineup, where Cumpton has struggledbefore) it was too late. This may have been due to his perceived shortage in the pen (but they had Reid, who hasn’t pitched since Friday) but he should have had a lefty up earlier.
The other thing is his lineup. He’s been doing this throughout the streak vs. RHP and hasn’t gotten burnt until now, but the Phils have 3 LH relievers in their pen.
Stacking Marte Martin and Cutch, 3 hitters who are better against lefties than righties, and Jones, Pedro and Walker, who are drastically better against righties, makes it easy for a manager to alternate his RP to cripple the Pirates. When you figure the ninth is a done deal with Papelbon, Hurdle handicapped his team in innings 6-8 from having a decent chance to come back.
The lineup vs. RHP should be Marte, Walker, Cutch, Pedro (or Jones if he insists), Martin, Jones (or Pedro), Mercer and Snider.
The Bucs are in desperate need of a real RFer. Maybe Tabata, who comes back tomorrow, is the answer playing both ways, Snider clearly is better off the bench (they need a LH bat anyways.) I favor Aoki from the Brewers to fill the #2 slot and allow Walker to hit lower in the order.
gw: Agree with the fact that in his previous 2 starts, Cumpton gave us 5 innings. Going into the 6th, he made some very bad pitches  211; he is a pitch to contact pitcher and cannot be up and in the middle of the zone with 91, 92 mph BP. But how did you arrive at the last paragraph to state that the Pirates need a better RF. Snider was our No. 8 hitter and got another ball off the RF fence for a hit which was equal to or better than any of our other hitters. Problem was our SS who hit before him took a big risk and was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff single to a double. That 217;s a good aggressive move if the game is even, but in the 6th down by 2 runs? Nothing about Garrett Jones? 3 fastballs by him at 94/95 by a RHP with the bases loaded? The Pirates left 15 runners on base last night and when you only score 1 run, it is almost never the fault of the #8 batter. Just remember all of those breaks they had gotten to win games and write this off as  220;it just did not bounce their way 221;, such as the play of Mercer taking an unwarranted risk, the ball crushed by  216;Cutch that was hit right at Utley for a DP, the play of Utley to prevent a run on a single up the middle, the two OF throws of Domonic Brown, and twice having guys strike out with the bases loaded. Just was not meant to be.
No, not the fault of the #8 hitter, but the fault of a lineup that is not very strong. Snider has been horrible. If we had a decent hitting RF to, say, hit second, it moves everyone else down a slot and makes the lineup stronger. I agree the Phils were quite lucky last night, and there was probably nothing we could do to change fate. But down the stretch, this is a scenario that is likely to repeat itself multiple times, especially against teams with stronger lineups such as the Cards and Reds.