CHICAGO – The Pirates lost 4-3 to the Cubs tonight, continuing their recent slump by going 1-9 in their last ten games, and 5-16 in their last 21. The problems with the team this year haven’t been limited to just one thing. The pitching has been a big issue, but injuries have also made the problem worse this year. And tonight, they limited what the club could do.
The Pirates had Sean Rodriguez at the plate in the top of the eighth inning with a runner on second and two outs. Gregory Polanco was available off the bench, but they stuck with Rodriguez, who flew out to end the inning.
After the game, Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle said that he couldn’t pinch hit Rodriguez because he was the backup catcher tonight. Chris Stewart has served as a Human Crash Test Dummy in the past few weeks, and because of his many minor injuries, was unavailable tonight.
None of that probably would have mattered. If Polanco hits for Rodriguez, then the Cubs would have just walked him with a runner on second and two outs, bringing up Erik Kratz, who hasn’t had a hit yet in 15 at-bats with the Pirates.
Kratz came up to lead off the 9th inning, but because Stewart wasn’t available, and because the Cubs would have hit in the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had to bat him. Pinch hitting would have guaranteed Rodriguez catching in the bottom of the 9th, which sounds like a disaster scenario when you consider his catching skills would be questionable, and he’s had no work with the pitchers. Rodriguez has never caught in his 14 years in pro ball. Thus, the Pirates had to roll with their only real catcher.
And thus we realized the horrible situation that the Pirates are in with their catchers. Francisco Cervelli is out with a hamate injury. Elias Diaz is recovering from elbow surgery to remove bone chips. Jacob Stallings and Ed Easley are both batting under .200 in Triple-A (where Kratz was hitting .231). John Jaso has caught before, but isn’t an option going forward due to his concussion history. And Chris Stewart is so banged up that there are some nights where he isn’t available.
On any given night, we’re an Erik Kratz injury away from Sean Rodriguez catching.
Home Run Problems Continue For Jon Niese
Jon Niese gave up four runs tonight, and three of them came on the long ball. He gave up a second inning home run to Anthony Rizzo, a fifth inning homer to Kris Bryant, and a sixth inning homer to David Ross. He almost gave up another homer in the first inning to Bryant, who flew out to the wall with the wind blowing in at the time.
It’s been well documented on this site that Niese has a home run problem. That problem looked like it was starting to go away recently, with just two home runs in 31 innings from May 16th to June 7th. But Niese has seen his home run issues return in the last two outings, with five in 10.2 innings against the Cardinals and the Cubs.
“I thought he executed his game plan very well, outside of three pitches,” Hurdle said. “The 0-2 breaking ball to Rizzo hung over the plate. The fastball to Bryant. He got in a bad spot. And Ross clipped him with a fastball. He pitched well. He had two walks, put two guys on intentionally. Gave up four or five strikeouts. Unfortunately there wasn’t much room for error when you miss with location.”
Niese said that the game plan was to attack with the fastball and work off the pitch. However, he made some mistakes up in the zone, and that cost him.
“It’s two good ball clubs,” Niese said of the recent struggles. “When you make a mistake up in the zone, they’re going to make you pay for it. I made a few mistakes up in the zone. I didn’t get away with it.”
**Jordy Mercer had a successful night at the plate, hitting a leadoff homer against Jon Lester, then getting a double off Lester in his following at-bat. Mercer said that his plan was to be aggressive tonight.
“He throws a lot of strikes. I think he just made some mistakes out over the plate that he usually doesn’t do. He usually works the corners. I was able to get a couple of pitches out over the plate and put good swings on them and drive them.”
**Mercer on the club atmosphere after the Pirates have lost 9 of 10 and 16 of 21: “It’s good. Obviously you want to win. We’re used to winning and we want to get back to the winning ways. But we’ve got to keep fighting, we’ve got to keep pushing. Our confidence is not going to waver, especially with this group of guys.”