Pirates Bullpen Shuts Down the Cardinals, Jordy Mercer Walks it Off For 6-5 Win

PITTSBURGH – Clint Hurdle said tonight’s Pirates victory over the Cardinals was like playing two different ballgames. The first five innings was back and forth, with each team scoring five runs and chasing the opposing starter. The next six innings saw each bullpen shut the other lineup down, up until Jordy Mercer delivered a walk-off single to score Gregory Polanco in the bottom of the 11th and give the Pirates a 6-5 win.

“The first five innings, good at-bats,” Hurdle said. “You had good starting pitchers out there. We found the barrel early on Wacha, we were able to chase him. They got five hits and five runs off Jon. And then it’s like the plug was pulled on both teams.”

The Pirates bullpen really stole the show tonight. Arquimedes Caminero came on in the sixth inning, and pitched what Hurdle called the most efficient inning of the night. He was followed by Tony Watson, who once again pitched the seventh inning, due to a matchup that saw a few lefties at the plate, and the top of the order due up. Neftali Feliz and Mark Melancon followed with scoreless innings, battling back after putting runners on base.

But the highlight tonight was Kyle Lobstein, who pitched two scoreless innings and struck out the side in the 11th, putting the Pirates in position to win.

“They’re incredible,” Niese said of the effort. “All the guys down there do an incredible job. All of them came in, did their job. Lobstein did an unbelievable job in those two scoreless.”

Lobstein ran into trouble at the start of his outing, throwing six straight balls and walking the leadoff batter in the tenth inning. He settled down and got out of the frame with a double play, and then really kicked into gear in the 11th inning.

“I think it’s just settling in,” Lobstein said of the early issues. “A little bit of nerves going on, the first appearance of the season. I was able to settle in, and it felt good after those first couple of batters.”

Lobstein said he felt he could have gone a few more innings, although Cole Figueroa was in the hole, ready to pinch hit, so he would have been limited to two innings. Still, those two innings were strong from a guy who is essentially only on the roster right now because Jared Hughes is on the disabled list.

The stuff isn’t the best from Lobstein, with a sinker that was sitting 85-87 MPH, touching 88 a few times tonight. That’s standard for him, as he averages 86 MPH with his sinker, touches 89, ticks a bit higher with the four seam, and mostly relies on changing speeds. Hurdle said that was what worked for him tonight.

“We saw a guy that can command the ball, move the ball around the zone, and change speeds,” Hurdle said. “That’s what he was able to do on the start of pitch seven, and through the two innings.”

The bullpen’s work set up the game winner in the 11th inning. Gregory Polanco drew a walk, and reached second base with one out. That’s when Jordy Mercer came to the plate, so locked in to his at-bat that he didn’t even know who was on second. Seth Maness started him off with three changeups, which threw him off. However, he was able to adjust to the approach, and it paid off.

“I just told myself to let it travel,” Mercer said of the pitches. “I know what he’s got. I’ve faced him a ton of times, and I just wanted to let it travel, see it deep, and I was able to get it.”

Mercer lined a single down the first base line, allowing Polanco to score from second, and taking the first series of the year against the Cardinals.

Jon Niese Makes His Debut

Jon Niese made his debut tonight, and statistically it didn’t go well. He gave up four earned runs in five innings, although his one walk, five hits, and seven strikeouts indicate that he should have done better.

“I thought it went well,” Niese said of the start. “Obviously I felt like I pitched a lot better than the results showed. It was good. 82 pitches through five. I felt I could have went a couple more. The game situation called for [Caminero] to come in. Clint made that decision, so I respect it.”

Hurdle noted that along with the seven strikeouts and one walk, Niese did a good job by retiring 13 batters on three pitches or less.

“I liked a lot of things he was able to do out there,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s still working with Cervelli on the scheming.”

It didn’t help that the defense played a sloppy game in the first five innings. Starling Marte had an error in the third inning where he let a ball go under his glove, trying to throw home early. This allowed a run to score, which was unearned. Then, in the fifth inning, Gregory Polanco took a poor route to a fly ball to right-center field, leading to a triple from Stephen Piscotty. He scored on the next play when Jordy Mercer made an ill-advised throw to first on a tough grounder, and John Jaso didn’t have the experience at the position to know to give up the bag on that play and try to stop the ball from getting past him.

Niese will make his next start against the Tigers, and if the K/BB ratio holds up, you can expect better results the next time around.

Other Notes

**Gregory Polanco, fresh off his extension, continued hitting the ball hard. He put the Pirates on the board in the second inning with a triple off the Clemente Wall, scoring Francisco Cervelli from first. Polanco’s hit was 110 MPH, joining his 109 MPH double and 112 MPH single from Sunday. He also had two fly outs (one was a sacrifice fly) that were 96 and 97 MPH. The hard hitting from Polanco is a great sign of a breakout season this year.

**David Freese looked great on defense tonight, starting two key double plays, and making both difficult plays look easy. He also picked up two hits. It’s early, but at this point that signing is looking like a huge value, just based on his defense alone.

**Clint Hurdle announced that Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Jeff Locke would start against the Reds.

  • Niese Notes…with a 7-K start in his first outing of ’16, Niese matches the number of times he was able to do that over 29 starts last year.

    His two and four seam fastballs averaged a mph more than the same pitches in ’15.

    Unless Pitchf/x classifications were wonky, Niese threw way more four-seamers and way less two-seamers than his previous two seasons, and also pretty much completely ditched his changeup.

    • I’m not recalling the details, but isn’t that sort of similar to what the Pirates had Happ do?

      • Great call. I *believe* Happ may have actually started that change before coming to the Pirates, but it’s been a while since I read about the issue. Regardless, you’re absolutely right to make the connection. Something to watch for in his next few starts!

    • Darkstone42
      April 6, 2016 3:26 pm

      The Cards look bad, but Niese had great movement and located well for most of the game. That should at least lead to soft contact, even if it doesn’t keep generating whiffs.

      But you’re right, there did seem to be more 4-seamers. And he threw them up and in and got guys to swing through them. If he can keep doing that, the cutter and curve–good pitches on their own merit–will be that much more effective.

      • I think if we’re all being honest with each other, we’d admit that we saw in Niese’s outing last night what we expected of him coming into the year. And frankly, that’s correct. Neither “side” should be reading any more or less into one game, especially the first of the year.

        I wasn’t particularly impressed with pitch quality or command, but I did think looking at the pitchf/x data this morning showed some interesting signs. If he can regain a bit of his lost stuff, and successfully revert to pre-’14 usage, then Jon Niese changes the outlook he earned from a poor 2015 season.

        • It was also cold, he might have had issues releasing the ball. Wacha wasn’t very good either.
          The defense also didn’t help much either, but the cold effected them as well. Kudos to them for playing. I was there in my winter coat and was still cold.

          • Cold is an understatement! I wouldn’t judge any pitcher off one game in the first place, but especially not after throwing on a night like that.

    • You guys had the benefit of watching on TV. I was watching from section 120 and only had the scoreboard to reference for velocity. I was expecting to see some 92s, but there was only one 90 I saw. Most everything else was in the 85-89 range according to PNC’s radar.

      • Interesting…I’ll be honest, I don’t remember really noticing the gun on TV one way or another, but it surprised me to see the pitchf/x numbers the next morning. I expected lower, particularly given the conditions.

        Bless you both for sitting through it!

  • So far, Polanco has been the catalyst for both wins. The current lineup construction makes the entire lineup dangerous. I think Polanco can score 100 runs out of the 6 spot this year. Although if he keeps hitting the way he is, he may get moved up in the order.

    • I would flip Polanco and Cervelli.

      • One slight advantage to Cervelli before Polanco is in putting another guy on base before Polanco. If Cervelli can keep getting on base a ton, Polanco gets a veritable crap ton of chances with a runner on.

      • piraterican21
        April 6, 2016 10:09 am

        The line up will look better if GP could force his way to the 3rd spot. Surprised the Lobstein came in instead of RV, I guess RV is gonna be the designated Nicasio back up. Today 5 innings from Nic, 3 from Volg and Caminero to seal it.

        • If it happens I hope Kang moves into 4th and pushes Marte to 5 and Cervelli to 6th.

    • Wife and I were at the game and hearing the crack of Polanco’s bat on the screamers, I said to her that it’s very possible he’s in the 3 hole by August, with Kang at 4, Marte back down at 6. Even Polanco’s fouls were loud. If he can continue having that kind of solid contact, he’s gonna have a monster year.

      I was somewhat disappointed in Niese, especially against LHB. I called a Moss HR on the 3-1 pitch. Didn’t miss by much. IMO, Niese looked very Locke-like last night. We’ll see.

      • He had a slow ST, but in his first full year in 2015, against RHP’s he hit .274/.338/.409/.747 in 467 AB’s, and most of that came in the second half when he carried this team for awhile down the stretch. Probably 95% of his AB’s last year were as the leadoff or No. 2 batter in the order where his footspeed played better than anyone other than Marte. And then he gets dropped 5 spots in the order?

        Now that GP is signed, I want to see how long they keep Jaso at the top of the order. NH got his signature on the dotted line, and it was not for him to bat 6th – GP will be 1, 2, or 3 very quickly, especially against RHP’s

        • Something to watch…

          Jaso has an obvious reputation for being a passive hitter, priding himself in drawing lots of walks. Over the first two contests of the year, the Cardinals have thrown no starting batter more first pitch strikes, and more strikes overall. Jaso has managed just one 3-ball count. Very few at-bats have seen him ahead in the count, period.

          You wonder if the new league will force him to prove the bat is worthy of pitching him carefully?

        • GP’s future is as a power hitter. He has lowered his hands in his stance to good effect, leveling his swing. Love having him at 6 to work on driving the ball with little pressure on him.

      • Marte at 5. Niese threw too many balls. He’ll do better.

  • Lobstien was really impressive tonight, when he was up against Matt Adams in the 11th I couldn’t help but think of David vs Goliath. A soft throwing lefty vs a power 1Baseman it was great. He’s really impressive and Ii feel like he can go on a great stretch.

    • He better start getting ahead of hitters, because as much as i loved that outing last night you arent going to survive throwing 86-88 and getting down 1-0, 2-0 to multiple hitters in the majors.

      Lefty advantage was huge last night.

      • This Cardinals lineup has looked awful; couldn’t happen to a better organization. Nicasio against a lineup of only three lefties, one of whom is Kolten Wong? This should be fun.

        • Their bench is dreadful against LHP, though some of that is due to injury. But my lanta, the only RH they have coming off the bench is….Eric Fryer? Too perfect.

          They also seem to be unable to realize that Yadi likely isnt a guy you put in the middle of the order anymore. Even his OBP hasnt been 5 hole worthy for a few years.

          But i can dig seeing STL fans have to deal with that bottom of the order, suck it BFIBB.

          • Even better, who else do they really have to push Yadi into a spot where he belongs? We’re talking about a lineup that already scored the 4th least runs in the league last year, who also lost their second most productive hitter to free agency.

            • I think, ideally, once Peralta is back he hits 5th and Yadi slides to 6th or 7th.

              I think their lineup against RHP is much less craptastic. Wong is in, and possibly Adams as well. 1-4 could be the same, with Adams sliding into 5th against RHP and a choice between Yadi and Wong for the 6-7 spots.

              Once Peralta returns, they can easily move Yadi down where he needs to be against RHP. But every time STL faces a LHP, its going to be hilarious to see their lineup. Wong and Adams likely benched, Yadi up to 5th.

              • Peralta is really the only choice, you’re right. They just have to be hoping his awful second half was a fluke.

                • Oddly, a lot of STL offseason moves tend to end with me going “and they are hoping he is healthy/last year was a fluke.”

                  Hoping Wacha’s last year was a fluke, hoping Peralta bounces back, relying on health from Jamie, hoping Yadi doesnt start falling apart.

                  All teams “hope” on things, its just weird that STL has so many of these as opposed to most years. They could be fine and win 90 games, or have about 2 things go not well and be just over .500.

                  • Without making too much of two games, all those strikeouts, poor hitting w/RISP, and shaky starting pitching is decidedly un-Cardinals. They also might have the least range of any club in the league; Holiday, Grichuk, Moss/Piscoty, Adams, Gyorko/Peralta. A few balls already have fallen in that good defenders should’ve had.

                    If this club were the Marlins and not the Cardinals, I’m not sure how many folks would really be considering them even with or better than the Pirates.

      • As a spot starter/long relief man he did better than I expected.

  • BallHeadWonder
    April 6, 2016 7:32 am

    First, excited that we took the first series with the Cardinals with a shot at the sweep tonight!! Jaso is going to keep Bell in AAA all season. Love his approach at the plate!! Had the best AB against Rosenthal in the 9th!! Even though he grounded out to 2nd, great plate discipline to get to 3 and 1 and got around on on his heat for solid contact!! Glad to see Cutch working out of the 2 hole!! 3 solid hits off of Wacha, driving in Jaso from 1st!! Freese’s change of scenery and playing with winners will help him have a great year!! Solid Professional that brings Big Game Experience!! A STEAL FOR US!! Marte (His Nickname for me is “2 Hands”) because he is always good for 1 drop taking it easy on a routine fly ball trying to be cool in the outfield!! Had the first one this spring!! Love 2 Hands to death, the best left fielder in the game, but can be even better!! He had a poor game tonight in the field and at the plate!! I will give him a pass because it was cold as hell out there, but these are the games that matter in October when we are 2-3 games back from the Division lead!! Polanco??? Outstanding tonight at the plate!! Quality AB’s tonite!! Especially driving the ball to left field!! Josh in the 7 hole makes us a really good team!! Wow!! If he leads off say the 3rd inning, you have 2 chances to get him into scoring position with Jordy and the Pitcher. Then Jaso and Cutch coming up!! Love it!! Last but not least, Congrats to Jordy for bringing it home for us last nite!! Your error is forgivin Brotha!! Let’s bring the Brooms tonite!!

  • Darkstone42
    April 6, 2016 3:09 am

    Just watching him throw, I thought Niese pitched great. Lots of movement, stayed out of the heart, pitched ahead often, and mixed things up well. Gyorko looked like he was sitting on the cutter down and in, because Niese actually executed that pitch; Cervelli’s glove didn’t move. But the other three runs were almost entirely (if not entirely) on the defense. If Marte fields the ball in left, there’s a decent chance no runs score that inning. Even after Polanco allowed a runner to be on third who otherwise wouldn’t have been, Mercer had a play at home had he gotten a grip in time. Those are the three other runs. Who knows how many extra pitches he had to throw in those frames.

    But man, the Cards just couldn’t center him up. Lots of whiffs, lots of soft contact. If that’s the Jonathan Niese we’re getting this year, that trade will be worth it.

    • Totally agree! If our offense can keep producing like this, it will take a lot of stress off of the pitching staff. It’s great to be a Buccos fan!

    • I thought Niese did well, but lost his command a few times and that cost him. I also thought the ump had a very tight zone for both starting pitchers. The deal for David Freese is working out a lot better than could ever have been expected. He brings a leadership quality in addition to the timely hitting and excellent fielding.

    • I think the cold weather had an impact on the play and the grip on the ball. Freeze so far looks like a steal.

    • Man to bad AJ is retired. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had Batman and “Mr Freeze” on the same team? Maybe we could get Joe Randa to come back as a coach?

    • Where did the “Mercer is a good defensive shortstop” originate? He makes 1-2 bonehead/bad fielding plays a game. Sometimes they don’t go as errors, but they should. They should absolutely replace Mercer with Kang when he is ready and leave Freese at 3b/

      • Darkstone42
        April 6, 2016 3:32 pm

        It came from Mercer being a good defensive shortstop who doesn’t make 1-2 boneheaded/bad fielding plays a game as your scalding hot take indicates.

        • I can’t wait to document it every time it happens. Keep drinking that Mercer Kool-aid as he boots balls or lets the ball roll under his glove.

        • Through 15 games Mercer has 2 errors and should have been credited with 2-3 more. You are right, he is solid defensively.