PITTSBURGH — Ryan Vogelsong hasn’t had great luck in 2016. Signed to be a starting pitcher, he got bumped to the bullpen because of a strong Spring Training by fellow Pirates pitcher Juan Nicasio. Asked to make a start, he was hit in the face by a pitch, which sidelined him for over two months. In his first start back from the disabled list, he threw six innings of one-run ball, but got a no decision in the Pirates’ loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Making his second start Wednesday night against the San Diego Padres, Vogelsong was again impressive, giving up just three hits and no earned runs in six innings while striking out five, but again, the Pirates couldn’t give him any run support and lost 4-0.
The only damage came in the second inning, when a pair of errors and two hits allowed the Padres to slash across two unearned runs. Vogelsong was otherwise unhittable, throwing four straight no-hit innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
In his four starts this season, Vogelsong now holds a 0.95 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP and an 8.53 K/9. That’s an impressive stat line for any pitcher, let alone a 39-year old with two of the starts following major reconstructive surgery.
“If there’s a blessing in disguise of getting hit, it’s the fact that I got to deal with Ray [Searage] every day for two months,” Vogelsong said. “I just got to start from ground zero when we were playing catch on the rehab process and just really starting over and trying to get rid of some of the bad habits that I had gotten into. Those are sometimes not easy things to do. We obviously had the time to do it. He gets pulled in a bunch of different directions on a daily basis trying to help everybody, so to get that much time with him, it was kind of a blessing.”
One of the things that Vogelsong has noticed specifically is an increased feel for his cutter, a pitch that was inconsistent for him at times in the early part of the season.
“I would say there were times early, before I got hurt, that it was good, then I’d go out there the next time and it wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he said. “I think that’s a byproduct of what [Searage] and I have been pounding on for two months. Everything is better than it was before. I was walking too many guys before and the command is better. It’s allowed me to pound the strike zone with better pitches, get more ground balls and not put so many guys on base with a free pass.”
Vogelsong walked one batter, and has just two walks on the season as a starter. His overall numbers — he has a 2.67 ERA on the season — make it clear he’s performed better in a starting role.
“There’s no secret that I feel more comfortable (starting),” he said. “At the same time, I feel that I can pitch out of the bullpen, too, it’s just not as comfortable. I feel, for some reason, when I start, that my stuff is better. I don’t know if that’s being able to take my time and prepare for a game the way I want to. I just felt like out of the bullpen it was hit or miss. It was either really good or not so good. I just feel like starting, I’ve had way more consistent stuff.”
Catcher Francisco Cervelli left the game in the fifth inning with left wrist discomfort. Eric Fryer replaced him. The Pirates had no update on his condition after the game.
Travis Jankowski made a rare straight steal of home plate against Fryer and reliever Antonio Bastardo in the eighth inning.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) August 11, 2016
It’s the second time this season Jankowski has stolen home plate.
“We’re all aware of [his history],” Hurdle said. “We talked about it. We shared the replay. A good throw to home gets him out. … Kang yelled when he broke. We yelled from the dugout when he broke.
“If the pitcher catches it and throws the ball home clear, he’s out. It’s not as if it caught us off guard, we just didn’t execute the play and we were well aware of the fact that they’ve run it a number of times. We didn’t execute.”
Bastardo agreed that the responsibility for keeping Jankowski put was his.
“I just made a bad throw,” he said. “I think it’s the first one, so I got really surprised. As soon as I caught the ball, I tried to get rid of it, I just should have made a good throw instead of throwing the ball in the dirt.”
It was a first for Fryer behind he plate, as well.
“I throw the ball pretty firm back to the pitcher, so I’m guessing the with the shift, after seeing where we were playing, he was off by a lot, so he was able to get a pretty big jump to the plate,” Fryer said.
Edwin Jackson and two relievers combined to two-hit the Pirates on a night where nothing was working offensively. Jackson relied on his slider, cutter and fastball to keep the Pirates off-balance.
“It’s a hard slider to hit if you look at the angle, the depth and the tilt,” Hurdle said. “The slider was problematic for us tonight. It’s an easy call to say [we should have chased less], but you get in the box — and I’ve been that guy — he pitched as good of a game as I’ve ever seen him pitch and that’s about the fifth or sixth different uniform I’ve seen him in. … It was his night. We weren’t able to throw much back at him.”
Jordy Mercer (1 for 3) and Andrew McCutchen (1 for 4) had the only hits.
Jameson Taillon will try to earn a series win in the mid-day finale Thursday afternoon. He’ll face Christian Friedrich.