PITTSBURGH — On a night that the Pirates’ offense scored six runs, it might seem unfair to call them inefficient, but that’s exactly what they were. After the Pirates’ pitching staff turned a five-run lead into a one-run deficit, the Bucs’ bats had the tying run at second base in three consecutive innings, but were unable to bring him across.
In the 7-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants, it may not have been the biggest factor. There was Jared Hughes’ two-run sixth inning, fueled by Gregory Polanco’s bobbled ball in left and Francisco Liriano leaking three runs away despite allowing only one extra-base hit.
But the offense’s inability to play some small ball when it mattered played into the final, nonetheless.
“What happened was we scored six quick and pretty much stopped,” Clint Hurdle said. “We had a couple opportunities and that was what complicated things for us. Their bullpen pitched extremely well.”
With two on and no outs in the fifth against rookie reliever Derek Law, Jung Ho Kang and Matt Joyce both struck out, unable to even move a runner up 90 feet. With Sean Rodriguez on first with no outs in the sixth, Chris Stewart popped up a bunt and David Freese struck out. In the ninth inning, Gregory Polanco struck out with John Jaso running on the pitch, allowing the first basemen to be thrown out in a game-ending double play.
Even though the Pirates’ offense has been good — they are third in the National League in batting average and second in on-base percentage — they have also left more than their fair share of runners on base. In fact, their 16.52 runners left on base and 4.14 runners left in scoring position per game are both dead last in the Major Leagues.
“It’s one of those things were you have to keep going, keep grinding,” Joyce said. “We gave up the lead and we had to find a way to get it back. We had four innings to get it back. We believe in our offense enough to get it back, it just didn’t happen tonight.”
There’s plenty of reason for that belief. The it’s obvious that the Pirates have enough talent to get on base and the skills involved to bring those runners in aren’t all that dissimilar. Joyce said one of the things that he and the Pirates need to do is to stay stubborn and take the ball to where it’s pitched, even if the running situation might call for something else.
“You have to be stubborn to stay to the big part of the field,” he said. “You have to stay on the ball. For me, I got a pitch to hit and I just tried to do too much. My front side flew open. I had a great at-bat to get to that pitch and you have a second like that. That’s what makes baseball tough.”
Hurdle said that when looking at the results, he judges effort and intent. In this case, he saw both from his hitters, just a lack of results. Joyce also credited the Giants’ bullpen with what was undoubtedly a strong performance.
“Their bullpen did a great job coming in and slamming the door shut,” he said. “Law had some great stuff tonight. He hit his spots pretty well. We had a lot of tough at-bats later in the game.”
GETTING A JUMP
The Pirates were all over Giants starter Jeff Samardzija from literally the first pitch, which Jaso deposited on the riverwalk in right-center field. In the second inning, Polanco hit a three-run home run in the second and Kang hit a solo shot to lead off the third.
The three home runs all come on different pitches, with Jaso’s coming on a cutter, Polanco’s on a splitter and Kang’s on a slider.
“I thought we had a good game plan against him and I thought we did a great job of executing our game plan,” said Joyce, who also had an RBI single in the first. “We took advantage of his mistakes and did a good job of staying in our approach of laying of pitches he wanted us to swing at.”
Polanco said he was just trying to “stay aggressive and put a good swing on the ball” when he launched his home run, but he echoed Joyce’s sentiments about not trying to do too much at the plate. “I was just trying to hit it where it came,” he said.
STRETCHING IT OUT
Francisco Liriano pitched five innings and allowed four runs. In the first and third, he set down the top of the Giants’ lineup in order. In the second, fourth and fifth, things got off track when runners got on base.
“Some of the challenges were with runners on base,” Hurdle said. “When you have runners on base, you have to work out of the stretch. It complicated some things. The stuff was good out of the windup. … There’s been times when runners get on base, things get a little quick, and those are times when the overall command isn’t the same.”
With Gerrit Cole missing at least one more start, a back-to-himself Liriano would be a boon for the Pirates’ pitching staff, and he feels his performance has him headed in that direction.
“I think it was one step ahead,” he said. “I just need to keep working, keep making pitches, and not walk as many guys as I’m walking right now.”
Liriano only had three three-ball counts, but all three of those batters earned a free pass and they all either scored or helped a run to score.
“I just have to keep playing, keep fighting and find a way to get better,” he said.
Jared Hughes’ pair of runs allowed in the sixth inning came on something of a tough-luck sequence. Buster Posey’s double that rattled out of Polanco’s glove was surrounded by a pair of infield hits. That didn’t keep him from taking the blame for the loss, though.
“Unacceptable execution overall, falling behind in the count, and then I left a few pitches over the plate and they hit the mistakes,” he said, while also shaking off the notion that it was simply bad luck. “As a sinkerballer, you get ground balls, and when they get ground balls through the infield, you just have to keep doing it. I let a couple balls get up in the air and it cost me today. It cost our team.”
The lefty-heavy lineup of the Giants isn’t an ideal matchup for Hughes, but with Arquimedes Caminero, Jorge Rondon and A.J. Schugel all unavailable due to workload, he was essentially Hurdle’s only option.
“He’s gotten so much better his year with the batting average against with left-handers, so it’s tough,” Hurdle said. “You look at the pitches, one’s off the end of the bat and one is a come-backer to him. At the end of the day, you didn’t get the result you wanted.”
MARTE IN ACTION
Left fielder Starling Marte was used a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, but it was something as a last gasp move. Marte injured his left foot Tuesday night and was unable to play defense or even run the bases, but with two outs in the eighth, Hurdle used him to try to tie the game with one swing.
“He could hit and if he had gotten on base, we would have pinch ran for him,” Hurdle said. “He was good to swing the bat. It looked like he had the foundation to get a swing off and he showed that in that at-bat, fouling off some pitches.”
No determination has been made about Marte’s availability for Thursday.
• Polanco and Kang both hit their 10th home runs of the season.
• Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Kyle Lobstein each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
• Jon Niese will start in Thursday’s series finale. He will face right-hander Albert Suarez.