Polanco Stays Short, Goes Deep in Pirates Victory Over Washington

For the second consecutive night, the Pirates power-stroke carried them to victory against the Washington Nationals, pounding three home runs off of Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

Scherzer had dominated the Pirates in his last two starts going back to last season, throwing a combined 17 innings, four hits, zero runs and 24 strikeouts, including the no-hitter he threw in June. He breezed through the first inning, striking out two batters along the way, and it looked like the Pirates were in for another long evening.

Leave it to Jung-Ho Kang to get the Pirates going in the second inning, though, when he lined a single into centerfield, and may have reminded everyone that Scherzer was in fact still human.

“We didn’t get a hit for eleven straight innings off of him. One hit, we were cheering in the dugout,” Neil Walker joked following tonight’s game.

Scherzer then made what seemed to be his first mistake in two years against the Pirates, when he grooved a 93-MPH fastball right into Pedro Alvarez’s wheel-house. Alvarez got all of Scherzer’s fastball and deposited a 453 foot home run into the Allegheny River on one hop.

Jeff Locke was unable to hold onto the lead for long, though, as the Nationals scored four runs in the fourth inning, taking back control of the game. Scherzer had settled down after the Alvarez home run and it looked like Scherzer was going to shut the game down.

But things changed quickly in the bottom of the fifth inning, when pinch-hitter Jaff Decker worked an eight-pitch walk, and it was remarkably only the second walk Scherzer has issued in his last seven starts. Enter Gregory Polanco, who provided the Key Moment of the Game.

Polanco had struck out his first two plate appearances against Scherzer and did not look good doing so. Polanco tends to become a little long with his swing path at times and Scherzer took advantage of it, blowing two fastballs by Polanco during his first two at bats.

In Polanco’s third plate appearance, Scherzer quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, forcing Polanco to enter protection mode. Scherzer began pouring in fastball after fastball, and Polanco continued to battle, working the count full and then fouling off five straight fastballs to stay alive. On the 12th pitch of the at bat, Scherzer finally gave into Polanco, throwing him a slider that stayed up in the middle of the plate, and Polanco hammered it into the right field stands. The homer tied the game at 4-4, and Scherzer’s pitch count became severely inflated.

Neil Walker reaped the benefits of Decker’s and Polanco’s work, and crushed a hanging changeup to give the Pirates a 5-4 lead.

“[Polanco] wore him down,” Walker explained. “That was probably the biggest thing. [Scherzer] is as good of a pitcher as they come so when that happened, he tries to lock it back in, and as a hitter, you assume that he’s going to really attack you. And that’s exactly what he did. He just left a pitch that was middle down for me, and I was able to hit it in the seats.”

Polanco credits his great at bat to his ability to shorten up his swing. His swing tends to get a little long and loopy when he doesn’t “hold his back side,” as Hurdle described it after the game.

“Not coming off of that back side – chasing down, chasing up, and putting your nose in the fight,” Hurdle said. “We’ve seen it before and we’re seeing it a lot more right now. He’s hitting some change-ups, he’s hitting some breaking balls, he’s moving the ball around the ballpark. He’s getting better looks. And actually tonight, I thought the swing was a little long the first times up and he made a nice adjustment. He’s getting better.”

After the fifth inning, both Jeff Locke and Scherzer exited the game and the Pirates won the battle of the bullpens. Vance Worley gave up a home run in the top of the sixth inning that allowed the Nationals tie the game at five, but the Pirates quickly answered with two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning courtesy of a Brent Morel pinch-hit RBI double and an RBI single by Polanco, giving the Pirates a 7-5 lead.

Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon combined to pitch three scoreless innings to secure the victory and give the Pirates their second win of the series.

  • Polanco has hit two bullets tonight as well…off of a very good lefty. One caught up against the CF wall and the other into the right CF gap. If this kid starts to really tap into his potential as it looks like he’s doing…he’s going to be a special player down the stretch for us.

  • I saw a squirrel scurrying around aimlessly yesterday running randomly into things….. I named him Brett Morel- it was about time he found a nut

  • Pirates brass using tough love approach to inspire Polanco and Alvarez is having early success. Nothing like being told your playing time is in jeapordy to motivate you to play better.

    The AB by Polanco could very well propel him to new heights. It had to give him a jolt of confidence.

    • Two nights in a row Pedro crushes a ball out BEFORE sunset at 8:45. There is no mistaking the correlation between his performance daylight vs. under the lights. I know they are tracking day game vs. night game performance, but that doesn’t factor in first at bats of night games when it is still bright out. What a strange and frustrating story for a guy with that much power. A smart GM who plays a higher percentage of games (and portions of games) under natural light should be looking at adding Pedro.

      • And despite these two games the Pirates should still be looking to unload him.

        • Agreed. Let’s hope it creates interest.

        • Only if you come up with another bat of some kind to play 1st base. You don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

          • Obviously….

            • If I would have seen your earlier comment regarding Lind Jared I wouldn’t have entered that reply. It is obvious to me you know what I am talking about.

  • If this is the point where Polanco takes off and becomes the player we think he is… and then adding ARam with Kang at SS… it’s going to be tough to find a real hole in the lineup.

    As much as it pains me to complain after a game like last night, didn’t Cutch just say, “The leaders on this team need to step up.” Then he throws to the wrong base again and lollygags a Harper bloop into a double, all while doing nothing much at the plate. That’s not stepping up.

    • The mental lapses of throwing to the wrong base are concerning, but I give more credit to Harper than blame to Cutch for his bloop double. Good aggressive play on his part.

      I’m not going to let a couple defensive gaffes change my opinion of Cutch. He’s still the team’s biggest Star and the team’s fortunes will rise and fall largely on his performance.

      • On balance considering the overall body of work, it’s just a blip and likely a forgettable one. But words are meaningless if not followed up by action. It’s not the first time an opponent has easily taken an extra base off Cutch on a similar play. Just noting that.

      • His first AB last night was no thing of beauty either. No effort whatsoever. The throw ahead of Moore, coming after the similar throw in KC, is totally inexplicable to me.

  • Darkstone42
    July 25, 2015 3:02 am

    I’m going to claim (mostly inaccurately) that I called this explosion from our offense the other day when I said “sometimes we knock aces around.” Yup, that was a prediction specifically for tonight. Definitely.

    But this is what I was talking about. No team will do this consistently. No team puts up 7 runs consistently in general, or gets a starter for 5 runs in 5 innings, even against poorer starters (because, really, if a guy has a 9.00 ERA, he’s probably not going to have a job for very long), but the ability is there to get to even the great pitchers.

    The Pirates have an average offense, maybe a little above, but it has so much upside. McCutchen can carry the team at times. Walker can be a steady force offensively. Kang is one. Marte is just so explosive. And then there’s Pedro and Polanco, Pedro who can go on tears where he hits a homer every night, and Polanco with perennial All-Star upside.

    In closing, this is a good team, I think.

    • That 4-5-6 of Marte, Kang, Alvarez (MKA) is not something opposing pitchers want to see. Polanco, Walker, and ‘Cutch are nothing to overlook, but the MKA is scary strong and they all seem to be seeing the ball very well right now. Teams planning to pitch around ‘Cutch may have to re-think that strategy.

      • I don’t know…I recall recently Marte and Kang hitting back to back singles and standing on 1st and 2nd all inning twice in one game…and it happens again last night. Let’s not let 2 games by Pedro fool us…

        • Pedro giving a little trade deadline push. One more big night and he will be on a rare streak.

          • And maybe have some trade value….

            • Just for fun, let’s say the best offer for Pedro came from the Cardinals (Adams is a ways from returning and he’d be a clear upgrade over Dan Johnson).

              Would you trade him there?

              • Depends on if we were replacing him with someone like Adam Lind. If we were still believing that we were improving more than the Cardinals then sure…

        • Pedro’s job isn’t to move runners over. Productive outs isn’t and never will be a skill he brings to the table as regrettable as that is. Changes are, he is going to get them in, or accomplish absolutely nothing useful whatsoever. Just be happy he didn’t ground into a double play. He didn’t take away the ability for other players to finish the job

    • I was hoping for Polanco to get his OPS to .700 by July 31. He’s in at .674 right now. Great to see the HR but he has 5 doubles in the last 7 days.

  • And congrats to Coffee, who is trying to show NH that J-Up is overrated.

    • And, over-priced. Polanco is starting to show that he can be a solid ballplayer down the stretch, and any time given to Upton is lost developmental time for Polanco. Taking that LHRP right back up the middle for a 2 out RBI was just as impressive as the 12 pitch HR.

      It has taken most of this season for the Pirates to develop new working relationships in the clubhouse involving Cervelli, Kang, SROD, and Polanco – this is no time to bring someone in who may upset that status quo. I am thrilled for both Decker and Morel for making strong contributions to this team.

      • Hoping this was Polanco’s breakout game. Two really impressive AB’s after early struggle can only speed along a young player’s maturity. Being against Scherzer makes it that much better. Decker, Morel too…nice to see a couple of bench guys they need right now getting some momentum.

      • JUP is certainly not overrated. Overpriced……that depends

  • Cheers to the “other guys” for tonight’s big game. Hat tip to Jeff Decker who worked an 0-2 count to a rare walk of Scherer, and Morel who drilled a double into right center for a big insurance run!