Monday, May 16, 2011

Buc Tumble Continues 4-2

OK, they're back in the saddle again after that hard tumble in Milwaukee. Clint Hurdle cleared the bench of righties to take a swing at Nat lefty John Lannan, so we'll see how his mega platoon theory pans out today.

Pittsburgh started off hot when McCutch and Jose Tabata roped singles to start the game. Neil Walker pricked that balloon with a 4-6-3 DP. Matt Diaz walked to put runners on the corners, and Steve Pearce legged out a single to plate McCutch before Brandon Wood bounced out. Not the inning that it could have been, but at least it was something.

Paul Maholm wasn't exactly sparkling at the outset. He got a line out, then a walk and single put him in a bit of a jam. Wilson Ramos lined another single, and it was 1-1. Old teammate Adam LaRoche helped him out by lining a shot to Ronny Cedeno, who doubled off Jason Werth at second. Still 27 pitches, several of them scorched, wasn't the start PM or Hurdle was looking for.

Chris Snyder bounced out. Cedeno rolled a single up the middle, but Maholm couldn't lay down a bunt between the white lines and K'ed. McCutch walked on four pitches to make it a moot point. Tabata flew out on a 3-2 pitch, so the Pirates have four hits and two walks in the first two frames - and one run.

PM K'd Michael Morse on a foul tip and got Danny Espinosa to fly to center. Hairston bounced one to Cedeno, and for now Maholm has settled down.

Walker grounded out to start the third; Diaz followed with a liner to short. Pearce bounced out, and the Bucs were down quickly and quietly. So did the Nats.

Wood drew a four pitch walk to christen the fourth. Snyder singled to center; Wood was gunned trying to go to third. He may have sneaked under the tag, but the ball beat him cleanly, and that's a tough case to plead. Quick quiz...what outs are you never supposed to make going to third? Cedeno followed with a double to right; runners at second and third for...the pitcher.

Maholm missed the bunt - and remember, he struck out trying to bunt last at-bat - on a squeeze with McCutch on deck; the lead-footed Snyder was dead meat. Maholm K'ed, and the Pirates blew a second chance at a big inning. There's a thin line between aggressiveness and stupidity; the Pirates crossed it this inning.

At least Maholm didn't take it out on the mound with him; he put the Nats down in order with a pair of K's.

Maybe setting up McCutch wasn't a great plan B; he struck out swinging at changes and a curve. JT caught a heater down the middle and belted it into center for a two-bagger. Walker popped out behind the plate and Diaz flew out to short right, and the Bucs added another zero to the board.

With two down, Maholm fell behind the eight hitter, Jerry Hairston, 3-1, and gave him a heater down the middle. That's usually a good play, but with two down and the pitcher on deck...? In this case, it didn't work; he dropped the ball into the left center stands to put Washington ahead 2-1. John Lannan K'ed.

The Bucs went down like lambs in the sixth. With one out, Ian Desmond walked, but PM got Werth and Ramos routinely to keep it a one run game.

Cedeno walked, and Maholm at last got a bunt down to move him to second. And that little tap was enough to get Lannan hooked; Cole Kimball came on to face the top of the order.

Kimball nibbled at the edges to fall behind McCutch 2-1, came in with a heater and Andrew drilled it to right for a triple. Tabata couldn't get the ball in the air and grounded out, and The Pittsburgh Kid went down swinging on a steady diet of off-speed stuff.

Maholm got LaRoche swinging on down and away sliders. He threw Morse three heaters off the plate; he swung through the first, fouled the second, and poked the third into right for a single.

That was it for Maholm; he went 6-1/3 innings, giving up three runs on four hits with two walks and seven K's, throwing 102 pitches. It was another solid outing with nothing to show for it. He was replaced by Jose Ascanio, thrown into the fire sooner rather than later by Hurdle.

Laynce Nix came in to pinch run; all the managerial wheels were spinning now. And they didn't make any difference; Danny Espinosa put Ascanio's first pitch - oddly, a change up - over the right field wall. The next two went down quietly, but the Nats were up 4-2 with six outs to go.

Xavier Paul grabbed a bat to hit for Diaz; he popped out on a borderline 3-1 pitch. Overbay hit for Pearce; that brought on Sean Burnett. Overbay grounded out on the first pitch, and Wood went down swinging.

Joe Beimel took the ball in the eighth. With two down, Werth doubled; he stole third whils Ramos was batting, and the Bucs walked him intentionally to get to lefty LaRoche, who flew out.

Drew Storen came on in the ninth, looking for the save. Dewey welcomed him by rolling a knock into right. Cedeno was caught looking on a borderline call. Garrett Jones grabbed a stick and lined a single to right to put runners on first and second for McCutch.

He got a slider down Broadway, and roped it into left, right at Nix. Tabata followed by smoking one into right; Werth was there. The last two outs were crushed, but at 'em balls, and that was the game.

Lotta ifs...what if they didn't fail to take advantage of countless opportunities after ten hits and four walks, what if Maholm catches a piece of the ball on the squeeze or works more carefully to Hairston, what if Veras pitches instead of Ascanio, what if the liners aren't right at someone?

They're the kind of ifs that always break against losing teams.

Charlie Morton will try to snap the losing skein tomorrow against Jordan Zimmerman.

-- The Pirate losing streak is now six games.

-- The Pirates have scored 13 runs in Paul Maholm's 56 innings+ of work this year, or 2.1 runs per nine innings.

-- RHP Kevin Hart may be around the corner in his rehab; he threw live BP today.

-- Altoona's RHP Bryan Morris is expected to return from his oblique injury tomorrow; they plan to work him out of the pen until he's stretched out again.

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