PITTSBURGH — The Pirates got to Felix Hernandez early and often, touching the Seattle Mariners ace for nine hits over six innings, but they were undone by some pitching struggles of their own and a lack of timely hitting for a 7-4 loss to the Mariners at PNC Park Tuesday night.

The Pirates scored all four of their runs in the first two innings, with Gregory Polanco and Francisco Liriano hitting solo home runs and Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang adding RBIs. After the second, the Bucs went right on hitting, racking up a total of 12 on the night.
But some poor sequencing led to the Pirates leaving runners on scoring position in five of the final six innings, including two frames with runners on second and third and no outs.

“Nobody likes to go up there and not get the job done,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re well aware of the fact that we’re 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position. That compounds the challenge [of facing Hernandez].”

Those that view the game with a Sabermetric slant typically de-emphasize statistics with runners in scoring position. I asked Hurdle what his take was on his team’s inability to find a way to push through some runs and come up with a comeback.

“I liked the game plan throughout the game,” he said. “We pushed [Hernandez] every inning. We were able to score and then he was able to keep us off the plate the last four innings.”

But he was much more comfortable talking about the successes and failures of each at-bat, rather than reading too much into the team’s performance as a whole.

“I think you need to look at the individual situations,” he said. “I don’t see a big-picture theme.”

One of the things that does affect a team’s sequencing is the batting order, and Andrew McCutchen’s hold on a top spot seems to be getting more tenuous. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts — both of them with runners in scoring position — and grounded into a double play. He also was hit by a pitch and scored in the first.

Things were going well for McCutchen before the all-star break with a big series against the Chicago Cubs, but since then, they have really run off the rails. Since returning from the break, he is now hitting .189 (7 for 37) with a .484 OPS. That figure doesn’t befit a top-of-the-order hitter.

Hurdle was asked about potentially moving McCutchen down in the order on Sunday, but declined to discuss the matter publicly.

BAD FRANKIE

Of course, many nights, four runs is enough for a team to win a game, even with an inefficient offense. But Francisco Liriano was completely ineffective, giving up eight hits and seven runs in 3.1 innings of work.

“I couldn’t get anything going,” he said. “I was missing with the fastball. I was missing with everything. They have a pretty good lineup. They were taking good swings. They were putting the ball in play. I walked a couple of guys, too. It was one of those days where you don’t have anything going.”

Liriano has discussed at length the reasons that his fastball command sets everything else up for him. It allows him to work the slider in offensive counts and force hitters to swing at his frequently-out-of-the-zone breaking pitch. But when he isn’t getting ahead of hitters, it’s a lot easier for them to take a pass on the slider, and he ends up walking batters or finding too much of the plate in an attempt to avoid walking them.

“It felt different,” he said of his fastball. “I felt like I was rushing a little bit and trying to overthrow. It was a tough night for me.”

That overthrowing was noticed by both Liriano and Cervelli. Liriano said that he “felt too good,” meaning that he felt the could throw the pitch harder than perhaps he should.

“[His fastball was] good — 96 sometimes,” Cervelli said. “Sometimes it’s a problem when we feel super good because we always have some pain. We always have something. When you go to the stadium and nothing bother you, that can be against you. Most of the time, we don’t know how to handle it. … He had a lot of power today.”

Cervelli also was quick to absolve Liriano of all the blame for the latter’s poor outing, and the two run homer by Kyle Seager.

“I put the wrong finger. It was me,” Cervelli said. “I think I called the wrong pitch, especially 3-2. I’ll take the bullet. I think I can do better because he trusts me, so it’s my fault.”

Liriano admitted that the inability to make an adjustment mid-start was the bigger problem than simply coming out of the gate with a lack of command.

“I know what I’m doing wrong, sometimes you feel too good and you can make an adjustment and change something, but at the same time, you want to compete, you don’t want to hang a pitch or make too many mistakes,” he said.

ON THE MEND

Cervelli went 2 for 4 at the plate and is now 4 for his last 7 after starting 1 for 10 since returning from his hamate bone injury.

“I’m feeling a little better every day. I’m just trying not to think about anything when I’m hitting so I just help the best I can,” he said. “I feel like I’m seeing more pitches and I just go there to try to get on base and have a good at-bat. That’s it.”

BULLPEN PLUSSES

Five Pirates relievers combined to pitch 5.2 scoreless inning while allowing just three hits and striking out six, which allowed the offense many opportunities to attempt to tie the game. Notable in the bullpen’s strong run was the performance of new additions Jeff Locke (two innings, one hit, two strikeouts) and Jon Niese (one inning, one strikeout).

“These guys are amazing,” Cervelli said. “They were starters, now they’re in the bullpen. Anyway you need it, they’re going to give you the best they have. Even when they have a tough night, they come back fresh and they give you the best they can.”

Locke’s career numbers in relief are impressive, if admittedly a small sample. He has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP while striking out four and walking none in 8.2 innings. I asked Locke if there was something in particular that resulted in his success out of the pen.

“If all goes as planned, you’ll never face the same hitter twice. That’s a little bit different,” he said. “It’s not like as a starter, I ever thought about pacing myself, but I do think it is a lot different out of the bullpen. It’s definitely a lot different at this level pitching through the lineup a second time and a third time. Maybe too much thought goes in, maybe not enough thought goes in sometimes.”

But even despite his track record, he doesn’t consider himself a real reliever like the other members of the bullpen.

“What our guys do in the pen that’s so impressive is come back again tomorrow and do it,” he said. “I won’t pitch tomorrow. Our guys that throw an inning come back the next day and throw and inning again like it’s no big deal. That stuff is pretty impressive. I know they’re trained to do it, but still, to throw 3 of 5 or 3 of 4 and be pretty clean, that’s pretty impressive.”

Locke also seemed to think that his move to relief will be temporary.

“I’m just down there to get some work right now,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be in the bullpen, I’m just in the bullpen right now. I don’t know anything any further than that. I would assume I’m not pitching Friday, which makes a lot of sense now, but I would think once this stretch of off days is over, I’ll be back to normal again.”

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Not sending Cervelli home on the medium fly ball in the 8th was dumb baseball beyond belief. The throw was going to 3rd, as Seattle did not want to have the runner from 2nd get to 3rd with just 1 out. The third base coach has to know the situation before the ball is hit. Winning teams can’t play this dumb, and I find that our third base coach makes a lot of mental mistakes.

  2. If Frankie doesn’t turn it around he is a huge drag on this team. This is why I didn’t want to sign Happ to a 3-4 year deal.

    • This team rises and falls on Liriano’s ability to pitch effectively for sure. Pirates offense could’ve bailed him out, but quite frankly a 4-1 lead after 2 innings needs to be enough for him.

      • Well said, Scott K. On the Pirates, Frankie, if not the number one starter, is the number 1.5, if I may. He failed to protect sizable leads against the Dodgers, Giants, and now last night. He has been terrible most of the time this season. To echo Tim’s article from yesterday, I think that if another team comes knocking for Melancon between now and this coming Monday, and that team is willing to pay a huge price, I say make the trade. This Pirates team, as presently constituted, is not catching the Cubs. Therefore, the best that they can hope for is one of the two wild card berths. Even if they win the wild card game, is it likely that they beat the Cubs, Giants, or Nats. in the NLDS? I think not. At least at this point, there is no objective reason to think that they can. The front office failed to effectively address the starting pitching situation this past winter. The great Niese and Vogelsong plan, which was dubious at best from the start, failed. The cavalry from Indy did not come riding into Pittsburgh on their white horses in mid-June to save the 2016 season either. This team, simply put, does not have the starting pitching to go deep into October. They will be lucky to even get to the early part of the October tournament. Trade Melancon now for some other teams version of Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon. The long-term benefit will be much greater than the flimsy hope that Melancon may make a difference for the Pirates in October when it does not look like the Bucs have much legitimate hope for success in October anyway.

  3. That was a pathetic showing tonight with runners in scoring position, they should be embarrassed. Maybe that will make them mad and light a fire under them, maybe there is a silver lining in this

  4. Well unfortunately a big reason why the Pirates will not be in the WC game this year is because of unexpectedly poor performances by Cutch and Liriano. It is really a puzzle why this has happened. My view: if the Pirates get reasonable offers for Jaso, Joyce, Freese, SRod, Melancon or Feliz, all of whom are on expiring contracts, they need to consider those very seriously. Returns for Liriano, Niese and Locke would likely not be very strong. Kang is coming off a horrible injury but my view is that the allegations of sexual offending are probably weighing on him also – and if guilty, DFA him in the blink of an eye. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing to see the next 2 months as an opportunity to start breaking in more young players: Bell, first and foremost. But would Brault really be worse than Liriano has pitched? I’d be bringing up – and playing – Hanson and Diaz. Put Hanson at the top and use his speed. The terrible, no-good, awful off-season really came home to roost this time around. But who could have ever predicted what is going on with Cutch. I still would never ever sell him in particular short.

    • Cutch has become Pedro II. He’ll come out of Cincy smoking.

      Liriano’s not going anywhere, at least till there is an experienced replacement for him. I’d like to see Freese and Joyce resigned, but they will probably become too expensive for the Bucs. SRod may be a reasonable resign.

      The next few days may get interesting, but the natives are restless right now.

    • Roberto, I couldn’t say it any better myself. You nailed it! This is exactly my perspective on this team and how they should approach the trade deadline. And keep infusing young talent in the lineup.

      The trade deadline is almost here, and I guess we’ll see if moves are made and if this team can play much better baseball. But I have my doubts, I really do. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my opinion. Unless Cutch starts hitting like a star again and the rotation pitches much better, the season is basically what NH got from his horrible offseason.

    • I’m with you on a lot of that, but Diaz isn’t better than Cervelli and Hanson isn’t better than Jhay, S-Rod, or Frazier at 2nd base (for now).

    • Josh Bell and Alen Hanson have a chance to move up after the trading deadline passes. Jaso is a key to both as he is our 1B and leadoff hitter, but the OBP consistency we thought we were getting is going further down each game – Last 15 games .213/.260/.277/.537 OPS. Combined with the fact that he has yet to steal a base in 2016, and has limited range at 1B, what is the benefit of keeping him in the starting lineup? I agree that Diaz would be better than Fryer, but where is Stewie in all of this? If he returns soon, Fryer and/or Diaz would be gone.

      Harrison is the most difficult because of his attitude and defense. He posted some fantastic numbers a few years ago, and earned a very good 4 year contract, but has yet to validate those offensive numbers. Anyone wanting do do so can just look at his offensive numbers lately, and then consider his contract goes to $7.5 mil next year and then $10 mil in the following year. Hanson’s defense is as good or better at 2B, and is the leadoff hitter who can possibly put some speed at the top of the lineup – 35 SB’s at AAA in 2015 and 29 so far at AAA in 2016. He has shown consistency to be around .250 to .270 as a switchhitter in AAA with surprising power. He is 23 and will be under team control for 6.5 years.

      • I’d hate to lose Fryer but there’s not much of a way around it. Wouldn’t mind seeing Stewart traded though.

        Harrison is a delimea for the next 2 seasons. The tight fisted F.O. ought to move him in the offseason. I’m not super high on Hanson but he would be several million dollars cheaper.

      • Sharp analysis emjay. Jaso and Cutch are killing us. Diaz is better then Stewart and Fryer right now. Stewart has a knee injury that they openly discuss could require surgery. With Diaz and Fryer better he should not be on the active roster. Harrison and Kang are also a drag right now….so we have four regulars nor producing at the plate. I think Clint better tell the boys that if they don’t win this week there could be a number of moves at the deadline. It’s a shame because the Cubbies do not look invincible and we have an easy schedule.

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