Friars complete the sweep

It was another disappointing and frustrating game for the Bucs today.  They closed out their series in San Diego (and stretch of 20 games in 20 days) with a 4-2 loss to Andrew Werner, who made his ML debut.

James McDonald, who seemed to be on track to getting back to his first half-self after his start in St. Louis, took the hill and was less than impressive.  After Werner got two rolled-over groundouts and a strikeout in the first, J-Mac came out and walked the bases loaded.  Carlos Quentin doubled in two, and another run scored on a sac-fly to make it 3-0 just like that.  Quentin was actually thrown out at third, which was a stupid move.  But hey, it’s worth a shot, considering how poorly the Pirates have prevented stolen bases this year.

Garrett Jones continued his tear in August with a leadoff double in the second.  It looked like the Bucs might get something going against this kid making his debut, but no.  Jones moved to third on a groundout, and Pedro drew a walk to put runners on the corners.  After the five-pitch walk, Michael McKenry hacked at the first pitch, and grounded into an inning-ending double play.  Pedro, on his way to a 1-2 day with two walks, drove in the first run for the Pirates in the fourth, but Jones made one of his signature baserunning mistakes by making the last out at third.  Still, the Bucs were on the board.

McDonald gave up one more run in the fifth, and he was done after that.  He only gave up five hits, but also walked five.  It was one of those typical J-Mac starts where he struggles with his command early, and once he settles down, it’s just too late.  It’s hard to even explain how disappointing this is.  The Pirates can not and will not make the playoffs if McDonald pitches like this every fifth day.

The good news is that Jared Hughes and Chris Resop did great jobs to keep the game close with one and two perfect innings respectively.  Gee, who knew that there were guys in the bullpen that are actually serviceable and can get guys out?

The bad news is that San Diego’s bullpen also pitched three perfect innings, and Tom Layne closed out the game to earn his first save.  The Pirates got their second run when Gaby Sanchez led off the seventh with his first home run as a Bucco, but it was all for naught.

If you’re not worried about this team yet, you should be.  The simple fact is that something needs to change.  This just isn’t the same team we saw in June and July.  Is it Cutch?  He’s definitely part of it.  Is it Hurdle misusing his bullpen and bench in pivotal spots in the game?  That’s definitely part of it.  Is it the fact that the best 25 players aren’t on the roster, especially bullpen arms?  That’s another part of it.

The Pirates are now a half game back of a wild card spot.  It’s time to get something going.

Pirates (67-57) – Padres (56-70)

Win: Werner (1-0)
Loss: McDonald (11-6)
Save: Layne

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs

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Extra inning drama and disappointment

There’s really no logical explanation as to why the Pirates lost to the Padres 7-5.  To put it simply: Clint Hurdle doesn’t know how to use his bullpen.

A.J. Burnett started for the Pirates, and got himself into a jam just about every single inning.    He gave up back-to-back singles to start the game, and then got a hard groundball to Garrett Jones at first.  He fired home, although he probably could have gotten the force at first and then thrown, or even tried for the double play.  They got the out at home, but both runners moved up.  Carlos Quientin doubled both home, and the Padres were up 2-0 early.

The Bucs got a gift run in the third on an overthrow to first.  A.J. loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, but got a huge double play to escape the inning.  There was some debate in the fourth when Nick Leyva sent Jones home on a two-out double by Clint Barmes.  Jones was cut down by a few feet on a perfect relay, but there’s really nothing wrong with sending him there.  With Barajas and Burnett on deck and in the hole, you have to take a chance.

Cutch, coming off of a really bad game, lined out with two runners on to end the fifth.  Burnett gave up a leadoff double to Will Venable, and after getting two outs, walked the bases loaded.  Once again, he got out of it with a groundout, and the score stayed 2-1.  GI Jones tied the game up with his first home run of the night, but the Bucs weren’t done in the sixth.  Pedro drew a walk and Barmes singled.  Barajas, who came into the game with four hits in August, doubled in the go-ahead run.  Jose Tabata continued his streak of impressive at-bats by drawing a walk, but the Pirates left the bases loaded.

That lead wouldn’t last long, though, as the Padres got to A.J. again.  They loaded the bases on a seeing-eye single and two cheap infield hits.  The tying run came in on an error, but the bases were still loaded with no outs.  Burnett somehow navigated out of the inning by getting a strikeout and another double play, and the game stayed tied.

The Bucs got two men on with two outs in the seventh, but couldn’t score.  San Diego got a rally going again in the bottom of the seventh, and Burnett couldn’t get out of it this time.  They loaded the bases on a double and two walks, which brought Tony Watson into the game.  Chris Denofria hit the first pitch he saw into CF for a sac-fly, and Cutch decided to throw a rainbow home instead of hitting the cutoff man.  This allowed the runner on second to tag, and the runner on first swiped second a batter later.  Luckily, Watson was able to get a strikeout to end the inning, so it was all moot.

Luke Gregerson once again made the Pirates look stupid at the plate, especially pinch-hitter Yamaico Navarro.  Down by one run, do you think Clint Hurdle turned to his best eighth-inning pitcher?  Of course not!  He went to Chad Qualls, who shouldn’t have returned to the team to begin with.  To no one’s surprise, he gave up a leadoff double, and the Padres got an insurance run heading into the ninth.

With one out in the ninth, Cutch roped a single to CF, which was nice to see.  After a force out at second, the Bucs were down to their last out, and Jones stepped up to the plate.  He took a 2-0 pitch to dead center for an absolutely monster home run.  With the game now tied, Jason Grilli finally came in for the bottom of the ninth.  He got two easy outs before giving up two straight singles.  Everth Cabrera took Grilli deep to right-center for what looked to be either a walk-off home run or long single, but Cutch made a beautiful running grab as he crashed into the wall.  And so we headed to extra innings for the second time in three days.

Barajas got a one-out single against Miles Mikolas (what a name), and was pinch-run for.  The Bucs couldn’t score, so we stayed tied into the bottom of the tenth.  Instead of going to Hughes, Resop, or Hanrahan to face the middle of the Padres’ order, Hurdle turned to Daniel McCutchen to make his season-debut.  He immediately served up a leadoff walk to Venable.  With the count to Chase Headley at 3-1, Venable swiped second.  Now you’re probably thinking “just put Headley, who is the Padres best hitter, on, right?”  WRONG.  The at-bat kept going, and Headley hit a mammoth two-run walk-off home run.  Ballgame.

There’s honestly no reasonable way to understand what happened in the bottom of the tenth.  It’s incomprehensible.

You’re probably wondering what possible explanation Hurdle could have for his bullpen usage.  Here you go:

Yep, doesn’t make sense to anyone else, either.

Pirates (67-56) – Padres (55-70)

Win: Mikolas (2-1)
Loss: McCutchen (0-1)

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs

McPherson, Wilson sharp in debuts

Kyle McPherson and Justin Wilson both made their Major League debuts on Monday night in San Diego, and looked sharp in the process. They combined for three scoreless innings coming out of the bullpen. The duo got the call when Juan Cruz was designated for assignment and Jordy Mercer went on paternity leave.

There was some uncertainty as to who would receive the start, and it was assumed one of the minor leaguers would get a shot. Kevin Correia volunteered himself and ended up getting the nod. He suffered through a mixture of solid hits and bad luck, while lasting just 4.2 innings. Correia allowed three runs on seven hits. With KC pitching in relief on Sunday and two fresh arms on the way, it didn’t really make sense for him to start. After seeing the two rookies pitch, it seemed to make even less sense.

Anyway, Kyle McPherson was up first, and came in to replace Tony Watson, who finished off the fifth inning. He got Cameron Maybin to ground out and struck out Edinson Volquez with a 95 mph fastball. Everth Cabrera singled, but Will Venable struck out swinging on another 95 mph heater. His second inning of work was smooth as well; the Padres went down in order by way of two fly outs and a ground out.

Justin Wilson was called in for the bottom of the eighth. He earned two quick K’s (Yonder Alonso looking, Alexi Amarista swinging) before allowing back-to-back hits to Maybin and Chris Denorfia. He finished off the frame by sending Everth Cabrera down on strikes. He went right at the hitters (17 fastballs vs. 2 sliders) and struck out the side.

McPherson was recently promoted to Indianapolis from Altoona, as he’s only appeared in two Triple-A games. Both outings were impressive; he collected 12 strikeouts in 11.1 innings, while surrendering just two earned runs.

Wilson has tossed 131.1 innings for Indy this season, going 9-6 with a 3.84 ERA. He’s not a typical soft tossing lefty, but doesn’t have great control. He walked 65 batters in Triple-A, which is by far the most for any Indianapolis pitcher.

Overall, both pitchers looked really good. McPherson could probably use some more minor league work and benefit from starting, but he certainly held his own on Monday night. Wilson seems to be a strong option out of the bullpen right now. The Pirates could definitely use him as a second lefty out of the ‘pen, even as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Clint Hurdle said that Juan Cruz will not be back, as young pitchers have passed him up. It comes down to Chad Qualls, who’s set to return from the bereavement list. Who knows what the Pirates decide, as their moves have been hard to predict as of late. Two other solid options at AAA are Bryan Morris (2.51 ERA) and Chris Leroux (2.26 ERA). The Bucs should benefit from the expanded rosters on September 1st.

More trouble out west

Coming into the game with a depleted bullpen, the Pirates brought up two pitchers – Kyle McPherson and Justin Wilson – from Indianapolis.  Despite having two fresh arms available to pitch, the Pirates went with Kevin Correia, who threw two innings in yesterday’s 19-inning marathon.  Despite a ton of criticism, Correia wasn’t all that bad.  The Pirates offense was once again unable to take advantage of scoring opportunities, and they dropped game one to the Padres 3-1.

Correia came out and immediately drew the haters.  He gave up a leadoff double, followed by a single, and San Diego was up 1-0 just like that.  After getting an out, KC drilled Carlos Quentin on an 0-2 pitch, and gave up an RBI-groundout.  Typical Kevin Correia first inning.

Will Venable drove in his second run of the game in the second, making it 3-0 SD.  Correia got through the third and fourth without much trouble, and then came the fifth.  With a runner on, he walked Yasmani Grandal on five pitches.  That was the end of his night, after 4.1 innings of seven-hit work.  Nothing spectacular, could have been much better, and could have been much worse.  Tony Watson came in and did a nice job to leave both runners stranded and keep the score where it was.

Offensively, the Bucs fell victims of to the heavy San Diego air and general bad luck.  Jose Tabata led off the game with a bullet to CF, but it was caught.  With two on and two out in the thrid, Cutch took Edinson Volquez deep to the wall in CF, but it was once again caught.  There were a few other hard-hit balls that found gloves, but not all of the blame should go to bad luck.  Volquez, along with the rest of the Padres bullpen, really threw nothing but breaking balls.  It seemed like every batter was getting one or two hanging curveballs, yet none of them could pull the trigger.

Neil Walker drove in the lone run for the Bucs with a single in the sixth.  The seventh and eighth innings were absolutely infuriating.  Cutch came up as the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh, and chased ball four to end the inning.  Pedro came up as the tying run in the eighth, and Padres reliever Luke Gregerson was just laying the hanging sliders in there.  On a 2-1 count, Pedro got a changeup right down the pipe.  And he watched it go by for strike two.  He got another hanger on 2-2, and rolled it over for a seeing-eye single.  Gaby Sanchez came in as a pinch hitter, and it was more of the same.  He got three 83 MPH sliders that were just begging to be hit 400 feet, but popped out.  Rod Barajas grounded out to end the inning, and his average dipped to .190.

A ton of credit is owed to the two rookies who both made impressive debuts.  McPherson pitched two impressive innings, giving up just one hit and striking out two.  His stuff looked great, especially his fastball, which reached consistently hit 95.  Wilson just pitched one inning, but struck out the side.  Who knows how long they’ll be up with the club, but they definitely looked like they deserved their promotions.

The Bucs got the tying run to the plate once again in the ninth, but Dale Thayer – handlebar moustache and all – struck Cutch out to end the game.  There’s really no analysis that needs to be done.  When your two, three, and four batters combine to go 1-13 with nine strikeouts, it’s going to be hard to score runs.  The team goes as Cutch goes, and he’s not hitting right now.

Pirates (67-55) – Padres (54-70)

Win: Volquez (8-9)
Loss: Correia (9-8)
Save: Thayer (7)

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs

Offense explodes in win

Sunday’s game probably wasn’t in the “absolutely must win” category, but it was definitely one that that Bucs needed to win.  Getting swept by one of the worst teams in the league would really set them back, and drop them even further behind the Reds.  Erik Bedard got off to a rough start, but man did the offense bail him out in an 11-5 win.

The first batter that Bedard faced was Chris Denorfia, and he took him deep.  The Padres had now hit a home run in the first inning of all three games, and twice it came on the first batter of the game. He walked the next batter, and after getting one out, he plunked another.  A run scored on an RBI-single, and two more scored when Clint Barmes threw a ball into RF.  Bedard was able to get out of the inning, but gave up one more run in the second.

Bedard’s counterpart was former Bucco great Ross “the boss” Ohlendorf.  He shut his former team down through two innings, but the Bucs got to him in the third.  Bedard sliced a double to left, and Neil Walker singled him in on his way to a 5-5 day at the plate.

In the fourth, the Pirates absolutely mashed.  Garrett Jones walked, Gaby Sanchez reached on an error, and Pedro singled.  The Fort walked, plating a run.  Clint Barmes fell behind 0-2, but worked it back to 2-2.  On the fifth pitch of the AB, he pulled a ball down the LF line, and rang it off of the foul pole for his first career grand slam.  But wait – the Bucs weren’t done yet.  Ohlendorf walked Bedard, and was pulled from the game.  After Marte struck out, Walker stroked a base hit.  Cutch hit a deep fly ball to the CF wall, and the fielder couldn’t make the catch.  Both runners scored, making it 8-5.  Jones, batting for the second time in the inning, tripled in Cutch, and McKenry tacked on the ninth run of the inning with a single.  What a crazy inning.  Fourteen men came up to the plate, and nine scored.

To hear Greg Brown’s radio call of Barmes’ slam, click HERE

With a five-run lead, Bedard came back out for the fifth.  He struck out the side, and was done after that.  His final line: 5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K.  He got the win, and although he didn’t necessarily deserve it, he has a handful of losses in which he pitched very well.  Walker led off the seventh with his fifth hit of the game – a solo home run to RF to make it 11-5.  He walked in the eighth, and didn’t get the chance to get six hits.

Chris Resop, Chad Qualls, Juan Cruz (fresh off the DL), and Joel Hanrahan each threw a scoreless inning to close out the win.  It’s nice to salvage a game in this series in such explosive fashion, and get some momentum heading into a four-game set with Los Angeles.  The Dodgers are no joke, so hopefully this gets the Bucs rolling.

Pirates (64-50) – Padres (51-64)

Win: Bedard (7-12)
Loss: Ohlendorf (4-3)

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs