The Pirates lost to the Phillies, 9-7, before a crowd of mostly Phillies’ fans at LECOM Park.
The pitchers got battered early, starting with JT Brubaker. He had a quintessentially Brubaker start, struggling to throw strikes early. That led to a walk and a home run to start the game, then two singles. Following a pickoff by Austin Hedges of a runner on second and a Jack Suwinski drop of a fly ball, Brubaker then fanned the last five hitters he faced. Once he started getting ahead in the count, all of his pitches suddenly started working.
After that, the Pirates went with a string of pitchers looking to play depth roles of one sort or another. Well, except for Wil Crowe, who’s probably a lock for the bullpen. Crowe got charged with a run that wasn’t his fault when Cal Mitchell dropped a fly ball a foot or so short of the left field fence. The play was inexplicably ruled an inside-the-park home run instead of a four-base error. Crowe then fanned the next two hitters and got a weak grounder.
The rest of the damage came against Yohan Ramirez, whom some people, for some reason, seem to think is a favorite for a bullpen job, and Tyler Chatwood, who probably is in line for a starting depth role. Both got pummeled, Ramirez giving up a three-run bomb and Chatwood another three runs.
The rest of the pitchers did well, as Rule 5 guy Jose Hernandez, minor league Rule 5 guy Wei-Chieh Huang, Angel Perdomo, and Carmen Mlodzinski each threw a scoreless inning, each allowing one baserunner from various causes. Huang is another guy probably fighting for a starting depth role, Hernandez and Perdomo for bullpen jobs and Mlodzinski for his prospect status. All but Hernandez faced Phillies subs.
Hernandez threw 97-98 mph, with a slider that was . . . well, a slider. The fastball was enough to get him through the inning pretty easily, so you wonder what could happen if the Pirates can help him find a good secondary pitch. Huang threw mostly fastballs, 92-94, but mixed in the other three standard pitches.
Perdomo didn’t throw as hard as I expected, generally 93-94, and the word “sharp” didn’t spring to mind, but his fastball doesn’t seem to be easy to put wood on. He benefited from two outstanding plays by Ji-Hwan Bae, who replaced Rodolfo Castro at second mid-game. Bae ranged well to the shortstop side of the bag on two grounders and got the outs at first. Mlodzinski, interestingly, threw 95-97.
The offense from the starting lineup, in its entirety, consisted of a double by Suwinski, followed by a bomb from Ke’Bryan Hayes. Ryan Vilade, serving as DH, laid claim to a sub-replacement level veteran role by striking out both times up, as did Hedges.
The minor leaguers fared a lot better late in the game, although of course they weren’t exactly facing Aaron Nola. In fact, the last three runs came off former Pirates minor leaguer Matt Seelinger.
Drew Maggi, playing first of all positions, and Endy Rodriguez each had a single and a double. Mitchell, Lolo Sanchez and Travis Swaggerty also had hits. Mitchell was 1-for-3 but one of the outs was laced. Bae lined out and struck out. Another minor leaguer trying to get noticed, Malcom Nunez, was 0-for-2.
The later innings of the games so far hold more interest than usual. The subs are normally a combination of minor league veterans and prospects just getting some time on the field in front of a crowd. These guys, though, are really competing for roles of one sort or another, either to win a roster spot out of camp or to earn a serious look later in the year.
One final note: With the minor leaguers now taking over Pirate City, I’ve been told that the central area around the tower is open to fans, like it was pre-pandemic.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.