Before the game? When I said that the Pirates needed to play better? Pretty much what I had in mind was a solid Wandy Rodriguez start and piling some runs on Shaun Marcum. And hey! Here we are!no comments
Don't look now, but the Pirates have lost four of their last five games if you go back to last Saturday, and they've lost six of nine if you take things all the way back to the beginning of the Brewers series. This is not a very good trend, to state the obvious.
The good news (if you want to call it that) is that the Pirates don't look like a lifeless husk of a team in losing these games. They're not playing a whole lot worse than they were when they were winning a lot of games, they're just doing enough wrong in a lot of places (the field some nights, the plate others, the dugout etc.) to rack some losses up. The only way to break out of this is mindlessly simple: play better baseball.
Tonight is as good a night as any to start playing better baseball. Wandy Rodriguez is on the mound for the Pirates. Wandy didn't get a win in his last start on Sunday, but he pitched much better than he had in his two starts preceding that one. Let's hope that's the start of a good trend. Shaun Marcum, someone that seemed like a decent fit for the Pirates while the whole Francisco Liriano debacle was happening, is going for the Mets. He dealt with shoulder problems in camp and neck problems after that and in the games he has pitched he's been pretty bad. This is the sort of game that you'd like to see the Pirates win, based on pitching matchup alone.
First pitch tonight is at 7:10.no comments
I haven't done a good job of posting/talking about relevant news stories this week, so let's catch up here.
Travis Sawchik from the Trib reported on Wednesday that James McDonald's shoulder has some inflammation but no structural damage. That's fairly good news. Hopefully his shoulder can recover with some time on the shelf and when he starts throwing again, he'll be able to nail down some more consistent mechanics with his arm closer to 100%. I don't see a timetable for his return anywhere, so it's hard to know what to make of this kind of news. We'll just have to wait and see how the Pirates handle his return/rehab.
Jim Callis posted his first mock draft at Baseball America yesterday. He's got the Pirates taking UNC third baseman Colin Moran at #9 and Indiana State's LHP Sean Manea at #14. I've seen the Pirates linked to Moran all over the place, so guessing they like him at #9 seems like a safe bet at this point. Manea's a wild card since he's a Boras client that dominated last summer in the Cape Cod League but has dealt with some injuries and resulting questions since then. For most of Huntington's first years on the job it was pretty easy to predict who the Pirates would be taking since they were picking high and the teams that picked ahead of them did what they were expected to do. I feel like they're tougher to read when they're lower in the draft because they're generally not afraid of picking hard signs that drop (see: Mark Appel).
For his blog's one year anniversary, Dan Glickman asked a bunch of writers about their favorite MLB memories. There are some very cool stories from some pretty big name writers, so it's an honor to say that I'm included. I told the story about seeing the Rob Mackowiak double header in person.
Finally, over at Bucs Dugout, David Manel examines reliever usage and leverage index. I have a feeling this is going to get talked about a lot in the next few months.no comments
Let's start here:
In the early moments of Little Big League, young Billy Heywood is considering naming himself manager of the Twins and he gets grilled by the team's pitching coach about what to do in various baseball situations. At one point, the pitching coach asks Billy what to do late in a close game with a runner on first base for a hitter in the middle of the lineup. He thinks that the right answer is to bunt the runner over, but Billy points out that bunting the runner over will allow the other team to use intentional walks and pitching changes to take the bats out of the rest of the middle of his lineup, rendering the runner on second base moot. Billy Heywood is a fictional 12-year old in a movie from 1994.
Tonight in the seventh inning, Jose Tabata lead off with a pinch-hit single. Starling Marte bunted Tabata over to second. Terry Collins brought in a lefty to face Travis Snider, so Snider got swapped out for Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez flew out, and Andrew McCutchen was intentionally walked. That left Garrett Jones to face the lefty, and he struck out to end the inning. That bunt after the leadoff single effectively took the bat away from the first four hitters in his lineup. It had the added effect of bringing Jordy Mercer to the plate in the ninth inning with the go-ahead run on base instead of Travis Snider. It happened so predictably that it was beyond maddening.
That was followed with Not A LOOGY For Some Reason Tony Watson brought on to pitch the seventh inning of a 1-1 game with the three rigthies due up. He gave up a single to Andrew Brown, who scored on pinch hitter Ike Davis's double.
I'm mentioning this because I'm sure that the only managerial decision that anyone will be talking about after this game is Hurdle using Melancon and Grilli in the eighth and ninth innings of a tie game ont he road and that not paying off after Grilli gave up an "infield single" on a groundball to Brandon Inge -- who was somehow still at second base in the ninth inning of a tie game -- that eventually resulted in the Mets scoring the winning run. Hurdle was adamant earlier this year about not using Melancon or Grilli in tie games, so he'll likely use this game as more evidence to support that method. Frankly, I think that using Grilli at that spot in the ninth inning was debateable, but only because Melancon cruised through the eighth on 12 pitches and he hardly ever throws any pitches and it was the bottom of the Mets' order that was up in the ninth. Really, though, the point is that the game was full of questionable managing and using Grilli and Melancon accounted for exactly none of it.
I feel like whenever I point out bad managing in a loss, I also have to point out that the Pirate players played badly. The Pirates loaded the bases in the sixth inning with no outs, and managed a sac fly, a pop-out, and a groundout. There was the aforementioned bad defense by Inge in the ninth. There was also a pretty incredible play by Mets' centerfielder Juan Lagares on what looked like a sure-fire RBI double that was just CRUSHED off of Andrew McCutchen's bat in the top of the ninth. So yes: the Pirates had plenty of chances to win the game regardless of any decisions that were or were not made by the manager. And yes, I'm still angry about the seventh inning and I'm still mad that all anyone is going to talk about is how Grilli should be used.
So it goes.no comments
It's no secret that the just-concluded homestand against the Nats and Mariners was pretty disappointing. The Pirates went 2-3 over the five games, though they could've pretty easily gone 4-1. Of course, none of that matters now; the Pirates now have 11 games in the next 11 days and so the focus turns to winning as many of them as possible. This stretch kicks off with four road games in New York against the Mets. The Mets are, in almost every aspect, a pretty middle-of-the-road NL team this year. They're currently eighth in both runs allowed and runs scored, though their record is a little bit under .500 (13-17). One would think that the Pirates should be able to at least split this series and maybe take three of four, though it's worth noting that Matt Harvey will start on Sunday and so for now, the Pirates are probably best served by taking things one game at a time.
Jeff Locke starts tonight, coming off of a pretty lackluster start against the Nationals. I'm having a hard time pegging his performance this year. In his first two years in the big leagues, he got hit pretty hard all over the ballpark despite pretty sparkling strikeout/walk numbers. This year he's not missing as many bats (his K% is down from 23% last year to 13.4% this year) and he's occasionally struggling with control (BB% up from 7.4% to 11.3%). He's not getting an exceptional amount of groundballs or anything, either. Really, a bunch of his success is tied up in the .220 BABIP against him, which is obviously way too low. Still, he's capable of striking out more hitters than he has and his command shouldn't be as shaky as it's been, so one would think that even if his BABIP starts to regress back upwards he should be able to compensate for it by simply giving out fewer free passes and not allowing as many balls to be put in play. Like I said; I'm having trouble figuring him out.
His mound opponent tonight is Dillon Gee. Gee has been bad this year with 19 strikeouts, 11 walks, and five homers allowed to match his 6.16 ERA in six starts and 30 2/3 innings. If Locke has another bad night, at least the Pirates should be able to compensate against Gee.
First pitch tonight is at 7:10.no comments
There are a lot of things that could be said here about wild pitches and walks and defense and bad base running, but really, all there is to say ist hat sometimes you run into Felix Hernandez and when that happens, the odds are stacked against you.no comments
I'm not sure how it's possible, but somehow Felix Hernandez has been even better thus far this year than he's been over the four years preceding this one. In his seven starts in 2013, he's got a 7.29 K/BB ratio (51 strikeouts, eight walks including one IBB) over 50 2/3 innings. He's only allowed 11 runs and nine earned runs and his groundball rate is 50%. He's been incredible. If you throw out his second and third starts on April 6 and 11, he's been even better. In those two starts, he gave up eight runs (seven earned) and two of the three homers he's allowed since then. In his last four starts he's been pretty much invincible: 30 innings, 35 strikeouts, 20 hits, two walks, three runs (two earned).
The good news for the Pirates is that the Mariners still somehow found a way to lose one of those four starts and that they're countering with AJ Burnett today. Burnett still leads the National League in strikeout rate and he's just one whiff behind Matt Harvey for the outright NL lead in total strikeouts. All of these strikeouts have lead to some short outings for him, but he was excellent against the Nationals last Friday, whiffing nine and holding the Nats to five hits and one run over seven innings.
This should be a fun pitching matchup this afternoon, as the Pirates look for the two-game sweep of the Mariners before heading off to New York to face the Mets in a four-game set. The first pitch is at 12:35. The first strikeout will probably come at about 12:36, and there will be plenty of them to go around after that first one today.no comments
There's always something nice about a win after a couple of consecutive losses, isn't there? The Pirates weren't terrible against the Nats over the weekend, but they were really uneven in a way that they haven't been all season. Seeing them put together a nice, tightly played win after a series like that is something of a relief, even if it comes against a bad team like the Mariners.
Before anything else, it's worth pointing out that Jeanmar Gomez was quite excellent in his five shutout innings tonight. He only really got into trouble once (he walked Jason Bay after a Michael Saunders single with two outs in the third) and otherwise, he cruised. He struck out five, walked two, only gave up two hits, and got six groundouts to go with just one flyout. He had the Mariners off balance all night and was throwing what looked like a pretty heavy sinker, all with good command (41 strikes in 66 pitches). It's just the Mariners, sure, but a strong start is a strong start. With all the groundballs behind him, the middle infield had a nice game. Clint Barmes made a couple of strong starts and Jordy Mercer started a pretty 4-6-3 double play in the fourth.
Since the start came on short notice and Gomez has spent most of the season as a long reliever, he only threw those 66 pitches and left the rest to the bullpen. Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli were all excellent while Tony Watson and Jose Contreras gave up the Mariners one run. Still, they were plenty good enough with the 2-0 lead that Gomez handed over to them.
If there was anything to complain about, it was not scoring enough off of Aaron Harang. Things started nicely with a single and two doubles (in order: Starling Marte, Travis Snider, and Andrew McCutchen) in the first, but then dried up until Garrett Jones's two-run insurance homer in the eighth. Still, Andrew McCutchen had four hits and Travis Snider had a double and another hard-hit flyout. Four runs was more than plenty.
I'd like to see the Pirates get a two-game sweep againsnt the Mariners here, but with King Felix on the mound tomorrow I'm awfully greatful for this win.no comments
James McDonald will not be making his scheduled start against the Mariners tonight and will instead be headed to the disabled list with what's being described as shoulder stiffness. Jeanmar Gomez will start in his place tonight. Last week, I would've told you that this made the impending Francisco Liriano (who should be back on Saturday ) and Charlie Morton decisions easy, but Morton apparently had a minor setback last week. He should still be back relatively soon, but for now it probably means more Jeanmar Gomez.
There's quite a bit of discussion online today whether or not McDonald is hurt or whether he's "hurt." David Todd makes the case that the Pirates are putting him on the shelf to sort out his bad mechanics. David's not wrong about McDonald's mechanics (check out this Baseball Prospectus piece, via @MichaelVelaTTU), but I think that there are a whole host of signs here that point to a real injury. His declining velocity is certainly one, even if it's ticked back up recently. The way that his slider use has declined this year worries me a lot, too, since it could be indicative of some kind of arm discomfort. The inconsistency with his velocity (he's been going up and down a bit since his mid-season collapse last year) and the changes in pitch selection and the lack of command and even the bad mechanics all say to me that there's something wrong with his arm. I would like very much to be wrong here, but I don't have a good feeling about this.
In any case, Josh Harrison's up for now in McDonald's spot because the Pirates need a position player. Jose Tabata has some kind of lingering something and since Russell Martin's been scratched tonight with a stiff neck. The good news is that Travis Snider is in the starting lineup and batting second tonight and that Aaron Harang is starting for the Mariners tonight and not completely out of baseball, as I would've guessed three minutes ago before I looked up the Mariners' starter. Harang has already served up six home runs in 18 2/3 innings this year, which is a huge part of the reason that he's allowed 18 runs in those four starts.
The first pitch tonight is at 7:05. The brutal early season schedule has passed and the Pirates are 17-14. Jeanmar Gomez or no, the schedule gets easier here and it's time to take advantage of that.no comments