Sunday, June 24, 2012

Verlander Holds Off Bucs 3-2

Well, not a great start for KC. Four pitches and it was 2-0. Austin Jackson lined his first pitch to left for a knock, and Quintin Berry got ahead 2-0, looked fastball and got it, lofting his first big league homer to right to make it 2-0. Alex Presley began the Bucco half with a bunt single dragged down the left side. Josh Harrison tried to follow; he lined! his bunt to third. Cutch and Casey McGehee both lifted flies to right, and after a frame, the Tigers were up a pair.

Correia bounced back with a 1-2-3 second, and Verlander had an easy time with the Bucco batters, too. In the third, the Bucco righty had to labor to put away the Tigers. Verlander K'ed, then Jackson hit one sharply to short. Clint Barmes cocked his arm and threw the ball straight into the dirt; it was generously ruled a hit.

Then, in breaking news, Mike McKenry actually tossed out Jackson trying to swipe second, breaking an 0-for-June streak of steals. It was a sort of Phyrric victory; Berry walked on five pitches. Miguel Cabrera rolled a grounder into right past a diving Harrison, who was positioned toward the bag. KC finally ended the action when he made a nice stretch, catching a wide toss to first on a Prince Fielder grounder that McGehee wrestled into submission. McKenry started off the frame by chopping an infield single to third and was bunted to second. That's as far as he got; the next pair of Pirates popped out to third, then to first.

KC must like even innings; he tucked away Motown in order in the fourth, the last out snagged by Cutch at the 399' mark off the bat of Jhonny Peralta. The Bucs went down quietly too, except for Clint Hurdle. McGehee protested a third strike check swing call that went against him (he did cross the plate with the bat) and Hurdle came out to protect him. He spoke to plate ump Marty Foster calmly, hands on hips, for a few seconds and got run for the second time this year. Love to know what magic word he managed to sneak into that conversation.

Ryan Raburn opened the fifth with a knock to center and was moved to second by Verlander. KC came back to K the Motown 1-2 hitters; he's been pretty strong since those opening four pitches. The Bucs went down without a peep. Verlander is using a lot of movement so far and mixing in his off speed stuff; he hasn't really begun to crank up the heater yet.

Correia's even inning mojo was snapped with two away in the sixth. Delmon Young, behind 0-2, slapped a waste heater, shoulder high and away, into right for a single. KC recovered quickly, getting Alex Avila to bounce to second to end the frame. The Bucs got a one out walk from Presley, but Verlander never let him get a sniff of second. Hague pinch hit for KC, who went six innings, giving up two runs on six hits and one walk with four Ks, delivering 86 pitches.

Chris Resop climbed the hill for the seventh and retired the Tigers bottom end in order. The Bucs squared up some in their half. McGehee roped a liner to right that sliced on Berry, who was turned around but made the grab over his head. It would be a big catch. Pedro lined a fastball into center. Garrett Jones took a ball, swung through a change, and then got a second one that stayed up, and he bombed it over the wall in right center to knot the game. Barmes followed with a soft liner into left for a knock. McKenry tried to keep the parade going, but hit a one hop shot to third that turned into an around the horn DP.

Resop came out for a second inning, and proved the old adage that walks kill. With an out, he issued a five pitch free pass to Berry, who stole second (good jump, high throw) as Miguel Cabrera struck out swinging at high heat. With two down, they walked Fielder intentionally. It didn't work; Delmon Young lined a heater up into right to score Berry, although Prince was picked off trying to get to third when the late throw home was cut by McGehee.

Jeff Bannister, the bench coach, had a limited arsenal. The eighth is usually Jason Grilli's inning; both he and Jared Hughes are out of action today after working the first two games, and Tony Watson is on emergency duty only. Still, he had Hanny available for the top of the order, but the Pirate brain trust is loathe to use him in non-save spots.

Verlander found his heat with the lead back, pounding the plate at 97 in the eighth inning after sitting at 92-94 all game. Still, he needed a big two out catch from Raburn, who went up over the short fence in left to bring back Harrison's liner that was ticketed for the seats. He and Verlander had a little exchange after the catch, Justin grinning and Josh looking like someone just ran over his puppy.

Juan Cruz faced the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, and was flawless, fanning a pair. The Bucs saved the best for last; it was up to Cutch, Casey and El Toro to squeeze a run out of Verlander or go home. They went home; Verlander was hitting 98; who needs a closer? Cutch tried to take a heater the opposite way, but his towering fly came down in Berry's glove on the front edge of the track in right. McGehee inexplicably looked at a fastball down the middle for strike three, and Pedro went down swinging at back-to-back hooks.

Hey, it was a nicely played ballgame, and it showed the little things needed to beat an ace. KC did his part. But a late inning walk to a burner with the middle of the order behind him was the difference, with each club exchanging two run blasts. And just maybe going a little too much by the book, leaving your best reliever on ice in the eighth against the top of the order, may have been a factor, too. You have to step out of the box every so often, especially when half the bullpen is down for the day.

The Pirates travel to Philly tomorrow, where Jeff Karstens will face Joe Blanton.

  • After the game, Clint Hurdle told the press that Jeff Karstens will start tomorrow, the rest of the rotation will slide back a day, and Bad Brad will go back to the pen.
  • The Pirates have called up RHP Bryan Morris, sent down SS Jordy Mercer, and claimed Drew Sutton on waivers. Morris was swapped out for Mercer to help bolster the bullpen; he won't be a long-term addition. Sutton was the guy the Bucs claimed a while back, moved the Tampa the next day, and now have reclaimed. Charlie Morton was moved to the 60 day DL to make roster space for Sutton. When the pitching straightens out, we'd expect Morris to be swapped out for Sutton and Mercer will get back to everyday work with the Tribe.
  • The Pirates club record string of 30 straight successful steals against was ended in the second inning today when Mike McKenry threw out Austin Jackson. The Fort notched the last stealer prior to that back in mid-May. 
  • Bill Brink of the Post Gazette reports that Jared Hughes was held out with a minor "physical issue" not involving his arm or shoulder, and expects to be ready to go tomorrow.
  • Today's gate was 35,179, bringing the series count to 111,878, the fifth highest in PNC history.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bucs starting pitchers have taken a no-hit bid into the 6th inning four times this season, the most for any MLB team.
  • Justin Verlander has gone six innings+ in 58 consecutive games, and today was his fourth complete game of the season. His lowest pitch count of the year has been 102; his highest 131. That's a workhorse. 
  • Kevin Youkilis was pulled from the Red Sox game this afternoon, so his saga should be ending soon. (EDIT - he was traded to the White Sox for bullpen swingman RHP Zach Stewart and old Bucco farmhand and utility guy Brent Lillibridge).

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