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.
**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.