PITTSBURGH — In the Pirates’ four-game series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers that ended in a 5-2 defeat on Thursday, some of the team’s younger players were the most victimized by the National League’s best club.

Reliever Angel Sánchez made his major-league debut and allowed back-to-back home runs to Yasmani Grandal and Adrian Gonzalez. Before that, Steven Brault pitched in long relief in the majors for the first time all season and gave up one run and five hits in 2.2 innings.

Catcher Elias Diaz finished the series 2-for-11 at the plate, including an 0-for-4 night with two strikeouts and two double plays. Jose Osuna went a slightly better 1-for-5.

Dovydas Neverauskas pitched in the 12th inning on Monday and gave up a solo home run to Yasiel Puig that cost his team the game. Edgar Santana was victimized by Grandal for a two-run home run on Tuesday.

As all of that was happening, the Pirates lost three of four to fall to 8.5 games back in the NL Central, essentially extinguishing any chance they had at a postseason berth.

While the combination hasn’t been a good one for the fate of the 2017 Pirates, there’s value in getting young players involved in the games before it becomes the malaise of September baseball. At the outset of the series, the Pirates had a legitimate if not necessarily realistic chance to knock off the top team in the league. The Dodgers, on pace to win just shy of a billion games, are still trying their hardest to win, too, and aren’t letting up.

Even though the Pirates were defeated in the series, they hung right with the best team in the NL, coming from behind to tie the game on both Monday and Tuesday, before Wednesday’s unbelievable duel with Rich Hill.

“It’s always good to work with more consistency at the minor-league level,” manager Clint Hurdle said on Wednesday. “However, your games here, they have bigger impact and the lessons are harder to learn. When things don’t go well here, to deal with that adversity. Because sometimes, in the minor leagues, yes you get coached up and you maybe don’t win a game, but there’s a magnification level.”

Diaz has had to deal with the increased expectations of replacing a starter, while the relievers have pitched not knowing how many days in the majors they have ahead of them. The Pirates have made 17 roster moves involving relievers in the month of August.

“That’s OK. The angst is real. That’s part of the development,” Hurdle said. “I think that’s a big part of it.”

Sánchez got the chance to go back out after his two-homer inning and pitch another one, which gave him a bit of a confidence boost and allowed him to shake off the butterflies of his major-league debut.

The reason that the development of those players is important is that they’re still in the mix for playing time in 2018. As the Pirates have dealt with players like Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, a rookie season as a major contributor is bound to have ups and downs. Getting some of those out of the way ahead of time could be a boon for next season.

The catching position, in particular, takes time to master, meaning that Diaz’s experience this season will go a long way to deciding what Neal Huntington decides to do with the catcher position going forward.

Chris Stewart has a team option for 2018. Francisco Cervelli has been limited to 80 games while dealing with a slew of injuries — a common thread in his career. Is Diaz a starter? A backup? Now is the time to find out.

“I think it takes a lot more time than maybe some people have given a thought to,” Hurdle said. “The pitch sequencing now is as big of a part of the game as there is. Getting people out has never been more important than right now with the home run rates the way they are. … It’s important in the minor-league level, but again, that gap is also very large. The importance of a Triple-A game and major-league game whether you won or lost, that’s a large gap.”

Hurdle was critical of the sequence that led to Santana giving up a home run, when he started his outing with 10 straight fastballs. Those are the kind of lessons that Diaz must learn at the major-league level that won’t show up obviously on a scorecard. It’s why teams across Major League Baseball put such a high price tag on experience. The Pirates haven’t been able to meet that price tag at a number of positions over the years. If they’re going to be young again in 2018, the next month will provide valuable experience and evaluations going forward.

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  1. Shame on Neil Huntingdon for clinging to the fiction that a team with this bullpen and depth had any hope of competing for a playoff berth against actual major leaguers. He had all year to try to deal with the myriad challenges the Pirates faced, and his answers appear to be Sean Rodriguez and Walk Een Benoit. Seriously?
    I don’t mean to knock Rodriguez, who has been better than we have any right to expect, but I want to scream every time Benoit takes the mound. He is awful, and he was equally awful before the Pirates picked him up. No one should be surprised.
    It’s bad enough that NH did this, but pretending that he did it as his best effort to bolster the team is pathetic.

    • And yet our Management Team of Coonelly and Huntington did absolutely nothing except watch it happen. Hurdle is the type of guy who essentially sent a message to NH like – you can bring up anyone you want, but I do not have to play them.

      And he got away with it. Hanson may have been a 10 carat dud or a potential contributor, but we never took the time to find out. This game is all about confidence and Hurdle did a masterful job of breaking him down, playing mind games with him. We do not need a manager like that.

      • He didn’t stop there, he’s mishandled every young player that has been called up. Diaz should be starting, Stewie sucks. Osuna should’ve gotten every start that Jaso has gotten. I can’t wait until CH is gone. He’s had 4 winning records out of 15 & has this attitude that he’s the best of all time. I’ve never seen a team this lazy, which is also on Cutch. They dog it out of box like their primadona’s.

  2. *this is more so just me venting about the Pirates current situtation*

    Yeah! Diaz needs to learn to sequence like Stewart! Throwing a 2-2 bottom zone breaking ball to Turner when you should have gone fastball in on the hands (albeit Cole hit Turner previous AB. All the more reason Turner wouldn’t expect it), and then going 4 straight breaking balls (2 not even close to the zone) to Granderson for a granny. I knew Cole was going to shy away from Turner and throw a low breaking pitch.

    But, I’m also wondering, so how much of the pitch selection is on the catcher, and on the pitcher? Is it on Diaz, or that a nervous young pitcher is on the mound? I noticed the same with Sanchez last night. He was throwing all fastballs, till after the 2nd HR.

  3. the avitar I use only shows when I’m on the Disqus site, but not when I post here. even though I’m logged in with Disqus

  4. i hope they play luplow full time in the outfield. put frazier at second. harrison at third. never play stewart. barely use hudson/benoit. see what sanchez, santana and nevy can do the rest of the season

  5. Rather see some players who may have a role on the team next year vs those who don’t. Stewart, Jaso, couple bull pen arms, and if not now, when? Many including me want this organization/ownerswhip to clean the slate and bring in new people who bring a fresh perspective.

  6. I don’t see much mystery in Stewart’s future with the Pirates. If Diaz isn’t on the major league roster next year and Stewart is, then Diaz is vastly over rated as the #8 prospect (or the system is overrated). He’ll be 27 next season for goodness sakes. What are they waiting for?

    • I think the question is more about 3 catchers. Are you better with Cervelli, Stewart and Diaz or Cervelli, Diaz and Stallings. Diaz has 185 games at AAA and over 600 ABs. I would hope that he has learned everything he needs to at that level, and he wont suffer being a back up or splitting time with Cervelli next year. With the Pirates you can never throw out money being a factor. They may need the ~400k they would save by not picking up Stewarts option.

      • Diaz has no option years remaining after this year, so he can’t go up and down. The only way I could see them picking up Stewart’s option is as insurance against an injury in spring training, and then releasing him at the end of ST if both Cervelli and Diaz are healthy.

      • To me, Diaz is the starter and everything else falls in line behind that. If Cervelli has trade value, deal him to someone in the offseason and either bring Stewart back or bring up Stallings.

        If not, DFA Stewart and use Cervelli as Diaz’s backup.

        Either way, I don’t buy Hurdle’s double talk about pitch sequencing. If you don’t trust the pitcher and catcher to make the right calls, signal them in from the bench. Lots of teams do it. But don’t waste my time telling me either Stewart or Cervelli is better defensively than Diaz.

        He may not call as good a game — yet — but he blocks the ball better, his arm is much stronger and his framing is just fine.

            • I’m not gonna crush the guy based only on my view from the couch but he seems to have, um, “filled out” a bit since I saw him live in Altoona. And not the Josh Bell kind.

              Tim’s 2015 Prospect Guide has him listed at 205 vs 215 listed weight today, and it looks like he’s every bit of it. I haven’t been terribly impressed with his athleticism behind or at the plate. Maybe a really solid winter getting back in shape would help bring out enough for a low-end starter (~1.5 WAR).

  7. Does it ad any trade value to these players as major league ready when it comes to making trades. The problem is if you see potential you want to hold onto that. They need to bundle some of that talent because they only have so many roster spots at the majors and try and improve in a few areas.

    • I don’t know if it adds any value, but it lets them have a better idea of what they have that’s worth keeping and what isn’t.

      • Alan: Why would Hurdle complain about the Catcher from AAA calling 10 straight FB? Was Diaz calling the pitches? When the Catchers look over to the dugout before calling a pitch are they looking for help from somebody in the dugout calling each pitch or are they looking at some cute girl in the stands right behind the dugout? Very few Catchers call their own games, and some kid up from AAA is not calling his own game. If he is, why would it take a learned baseball guy like Hurdle 10 pitches and 2 HR to figure it out.

        • The catchers call the pitches more often than not. There are exceptions, but most of the time, they’re looking to the dugout for signs about the defense and controlling the running game.

          Now, if the manager was upset about the 9th straight fastball, that might have been time to send a sign in or send Ray out there to straighten him out.

  8. This should keep it interesting. With some players that have something to play for it should keep them competitive. They also need to start rotating some of the potential starters in and giving players like Cole and Taillon some skipped starts.

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