MIAMI – I spent a lot of words this week breaking down how everything was going wrong for the Pirates on offense. Tonight, everything was going right.
It started off innocently enough, with Jordy Mercer hitting a solo homer in the second at-bat of the game off lefty Adam Conley. It was the second home run of the year for Mercer, with both of them coming against left-handers. Then, the Pirates broke things open in the second inning, putting up eight runs, which allowed them to coast the rest of the way to a 12-2 blowout victory over the Marlins.
“I think we got some balls to hit,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “[Conley’s] command wasn’t sharp. We worked the counts, got ahead in the counts. Made him throw the fastball up and over the plate. I think we had eight, two-out RBIs. It was a very good grind in the box tonight.”
You could make a list of the impressive things about tonight’s offensive performance. Every Pirates starting position player had a hit. They had three triples for the first time since August 20, 2013. Five of the eight starting position players had multiple hits. But the most entertaining part about the offensive outburst was watching the rookies at the bottom of the order.
Jose Osuna and Gift Ngoepe combined to go 7-for-8 with three walks, reaching base safely in ten plate appearances. Ngoepe went 3-for-3 with two walks and a triple, and has now reached base safely in seven of eight plate appearances in his first two MLB games. Osuna went 4-for-5 with four singles and a walk, and was only finally retired in his last plate appearance of the night. While his defense remains questionable in right field, he is hitting for a .348/.423/.565 line in his first 26 plate appearances.
Those sample sizes are hardly enough to draw any conclusions. Osuna has some offensive upside, although not to this extent. Ngoepe is a smooth defender at shortstop, but doesn’t project to provide a lot of offense in the big leagues. But it’s still fun to watch the farm system helping the Pirates out so much when their normal starting lineup is so depleted.
Osuna has been getting a lot of starts lately in right field, and could hit his way into a starter’s role as long as Starling Marte is suspended. He noted after the game that his offense has gotten more comfortable the last few games with more playing time.
“The last couple of games I’ve played a little bit more, so I’ve had more at-bats to get a little more confidence to be ready every moment,” Osuna said. “It doesn’t matter if I started the game, or if I come from the bench. I try to do my job.”
Hurdle obviously likes Osuna, trusting him with a starting role right away, and pushing him ahead of Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin, who both made the team on Opening Day.
“We like the young man,” Hurdle said. “We like the way he plays. He’s going to work hard, he’s going to give us his best effort. We believe he can swing the bat. So it’s fun to see a guy go out there and [get four hits].”
The one downside with Osuna is his defense in right field. He was originally an outfielder, then moved to first base due to defensive liabilities. He moved back to the outfield to make a path to the majors with Josh Bell blocking him at first base. He’s still rough in right field, as shown tonight when he tried for a ball out of his range, then over-ran it and allowed a double to turn into a triple.
“I’m trying to, every day, work on the defense,” Osuna said. “Every day I’m trying to do some work at first, outfield. I have to be ready, no matter where they’re going to put me.”
Meanwhile, Ngoepe was making his first MLB start, which is an assignment that might not happen on such a regular occurrence as it will for Osuna. But after his first two games at the plate, Ngoepe might find himself getting another look or two as long as David Freese is out. His night was highlighted by a triple that would have been a home run in any other park.
“I was telling the ball to go,” Ngoepe said about the triple. “Grow some legs and travel. I turned it into a triple. It could have been the first home run for South Africa. That will come. Just focus on what I’m doing right now and keep it going.”
Brian Peloza wrote about Ngoepe before his call-up, noting that he’s starting to find his identity as a hitter. He touched on that tonight, pointing out a change he is focused on making this year.
“I had a lot of movement [in the batter’s box], and just getting that out of the way as fast as possible,” Ngoepe said on what his helping his offensive improvements. “Just be ready to hit.”
The Pirates probably aren’t going to be led offensively by their depth guys from Indianapolis going forward. However, for just one night it was fun to see the two rookies combine to put on such a display.
Jameson Taillon Grinds Through Five Innings
In most cases, a nine run lead after two innings would lead to an easy outing. That wasn’t the case with Jameson Taillon tonight, as he only lasted five innings, throwing 95 pitches. Taillon ran into some command problems, especially in the third inning, but managed to keep the Marlins off the scoreboard for the most part, allowing just one run.
“He had to grind this game out,” Hurdle said. “First pitch strikes were just over 50%. I think he had seven, three-ball counts. Only six hitters retired in three pitches or less. So it was a different kind of ballgame for him, but he was able to grind it out, battle, fight, make pitches when he needed to.”
Taillon showed the good and the bad with his sinker tonight, getting a lot of swings and misses, including a few strikeouts on 97 MPH sinkers down in the zone. He also missed low a lot, which is his preferred place to miss.
“I was down, which is always a good place to miss with the sinker,” Taillon said. “If I was missing up, I’d probably have a nastier line score. It was darting really well. The ball was coming out extremely clean out of my hand tonight. I felt really strong tonight. Most of my misses were down. Kind of smothering it down, as opposed to letting my 6′ 6″ frame and high arm slot do the talking.”
While you would have liked to see better command from Taillon tonight, giving the Pirates an opportunity to rest their bullpen, it was encouraging to see him battling through and only giving up one run in an outing where he clearly didn’t have his best stuff.
Johnny Barbato Makes His Pirates Debut
The Pirates added right-handed pitcher Johnny Barbato from the Yankees two weeks ago for cash considerations. They called him up earlier this week, and he made his debut tonight, picking up right after Taillon. Brian Peloza wrote about Barbato right after the callup, mentioning that Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett was surprised the Yankees gave him up after seeing his stuff.
Barbato showed his stuff tonight, throwing two shutout innings with just one walk allowed. He sat 94-96 MPH with his fastball in the outing, showing so much movement on his fastball that Gameday was classifying the fastballs as sliders and curveballs.
“Barbato is a guy that our group had seen him before,” Hurdle said. “Had seen him stretched out, multiple inning guy, aggressive in the zone. That’s kind of what we saw tonight. He went after people. It was a good debut for him.”
Wade LeBlanc followed Barbato, pitching two more innings to close out the game.