The Pirates dropped the third game of their four-game set against the Washington Nationals in decisive fashion 9-3, which increased their deficit to seven games behind division-leading St. Louis.
A.J. Burnett struggled for the second consecutive start, giving up 11 hits and five earned runs over 5.2 innings. He was able to strike out eight Washington batters, but was inconsistent with his command throughout the night.
“The control was terrible,” Burnett said following the game. “I’m hitting guys in the foot, throwing balls down the middle [of the plate], throwing balls away at first, didn’t cover home. I mean yeah, I got strikeouts, but I also gotta win ball games.”
Deolis Guerra relieved Burnett, and gave up two earned runs of his own, including a double off of the left field wall followed by a two-run home run by Ian Desmond.
Arquimedes Caminero’s struggles continued tonight, as he allowed a leadoff walk to start the top of the eighth, followed by a two-run home run by Michael Taylor. Caminero has now given up 12 earned runs in his last 13 innings of work.
Overall, Guerra and Caminero combined to give up four earned runs in the final 3.1 innings.
The Pirates were not able to muster much offensively off of Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez through the first five innings, but were able to put together a rally in the sixth inning. Pedro Alvarez led the inning off with a single, followed by Gregory Polanco reaching base on an error by Nationals first baseman Clint Robinson. Starling Marte then drove an RBI single through the right side of the infield to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-1. Andrew McCutchen then hit an RBI single to left field making it 5-2. That marked the end of Gonzalez’s night, and he was still responsible for McCutchen and Marte who were on first and second base.
Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett was then able to stall the Pirates rally and take full control of the game when he induced a double-play groundball off of the bat of newly acquired Aramis Ramirez. The Pirates offense was quiet for the remainder of the game.
The Pirates send ace Gerrit Cole to the mound on Sunday afternoon, looking to avoid what would be a disappointing series split.
**It is easy to see why the Pirates are rumored to be interested in acquiring another late-inning relief pitcher before Friday’s trade deadline. The middle-relief struggles continued tonight, and it looks to be the club’s main weakness heading towards the final two months of the season.
Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes are as dependable as any relief trio in baseball, but the middle-relievers — Caminero, Guerra and Antonio Bastardo — have been inconsistent, especially of late.
Early on in the season, it had looked like Caminero could possibly fill in at the closing role with his ability to throw in the upper-90s to 100 MPH, and the fact that he was striking out almost ten batters per nine innings pitched. But since the middle of June, Caminero’s fastball has lost the downward angle that made him so difficult to hit, and barreling up his 100 MPH fastball has not been such a difficult task for opposing hitters. His lack of command and the mechanical problems he’s experiencing could be a by-product of being on pace to throw more innings than he ever has as a professional. Regardless, the Pirates can no longer trust him in high-leverage situations until he works out his mechanical issues.
Right-hander Deolis Guerra’s first four appearances for the Pirates were stellar, when he pitched seven scoreless innings while striking out seven batters. He’s since come back down to Earth in his last seven innings, giving up three home runs and five total earned runs.
John Holdzkom was supposed to play a big role in the bullpen heading into this season, but injuries have derailed his progress and he hasn’t made an appearance with the Pirates yet this season. Rob Scahill has been dealing with forearm tightness, and hasn’t pitched since June 25th.
Which brings us to left-hander Antonio Bastardo, who I wrote about before the All-Star break as a guy the Pirates were hoping to cover more high-leverage innings and take some of the workload off of Tony Watson in the second half. This hasn’t come to fruition, as only 4.1 of his 30 innings pitched have been in high-leverage situations, according to FanGraphs.
With the uncertainty and inconsistencies of the middle-relievers, it’s a necessity that the Pirates find help before the trading deadline to support Melancon, Watson and Hughes.