Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Willingham, Span, Sliders Drop Bucs 2-1

It looked like Eric Bedard was gonna cruise through the first. A soft liner deflected off his butt to Walker for a 1-4-3 out, and a little fly to center put the first two Twins away. Ahead of Josh Willingham 0-2, a two seamer aimed for the outside black rode in, and was drilled into right center for a two bagger. Justin Morneau fell behind 0-2 and took the next four pitches for a walk. Trevor Plouffe was down 0-1, and another two seamer slid over the middle of the dish and was banged into center to bring home a run. Brian Dozier walked on a 3-2 pitch to juice the sacks, kept alive when Mike McKenry stopped short by the dugout and allowed a foul pop to drop. But Bedard escaped when he stabbed Jamey Carroll's liner up the middle.

Francisco Liriano had no trouble with the strike zone. He K'ed JT on fastball swinging, then gave up a double to Josh Harrison. He came back to whiff Cutch on a down-and-in slider and Casey McGehee bounced to short. After one, it's 1-0 Twins. Bedard found his mojo in the second, tucking away the Twinkies 1-2-3 with a couple of Ks. Ditto for Liriano, who got a pair of bouncers and a K in his half.

Bedard retired Minnesota in order routinely in the third, and Liriano did the same to the Buccos. Carroll broke Bedard's string of outs at nine with a two-out knock into left, causing no problems. Liriano's string was ended at ten when McGehee ripped a single to right; he likewise was stranded. Still 1-0 after four.

Denard Span got a one out knock in the fifth, but stayed put as Bedard worked hard to keep him glued to first. Bedard has six Ks, but is approaching his pitch limit, as he's up to 85 offerings. Liriano had another easy frame. He's getting his fastball in, and the Bucs can't lay off his slider, which finishes ankle high. Liriano has 5K with a lot of weakly hit grounders and pops to his credit so far tonight.

It took a dozen pitches for Bedard to 1-2-3 the Twins. His line was six innings with a run on four hits with two walks and seven K, tossing 97 pitches. Hague opened the frame with a line single to center, and JT bunted him to second. Harrison tapped back to the mound and Hague was caught between bases, lasting long enough to swap spots with Harrison. Cutch looked at three balls and was intentionally walked on the fourth; that's the downside of a sacrifice that leaves first base open. McGehee took a ball, and let a hung slider spin by him for a strike. The next three sliders were well out of the strike zone, but he hacked at a pair of them to K and end the threat.

Jared Hughes climbed the bump. with an out Drew Butera golfed a shot that dropped into left, well placed enough to end up a double. He went to third on Liriano's bouncer, and was left there on a nice grab of Span's grounder inside first by McGehee.

With an out in the seventh, Pedro was brushed on a two strike heater. Liriano challenged Clint Barmes with fastballs; he rolled over on a two strike heater on the outside part of the plate, but got a single off it when it headed for the hole and glanced off Plouffe's mitt. Mike McKenry walked on five pitches to juice the sacks. Rod Barajas lined a 2-1 slider into left center; Span plain outran it, making a sweet diving grab to steal a bases clearing double, but the sac fly tied the game. Ron Gardenhire tapped his arm for Jared Burton. JT rifled a one hopper past first, but Morneau, playing back, speared it to end the frame.

Jason Grilli took the mound for Pittsburgh. With an out, he delivered a fastball above the knees and down the middle to Willingham, who cranked it over the 393' mark in left center to answer the Bucco tally. Morneau got the same pitch and singled through the hole, but Grilli finished out with a fly to short right and a ground out to short. Cutch lined a single to center with an out, but the rest of the order managed a pair of weakly hit grounders and a K looking, leaving it 2-1 Twins after eight.

Doug Slaten put away Minnesota in order in the ninth, and the Pirates were down to last call. Lefty Glen Perkins came on, and walked Pedro on four pitches. That would be the inning's highlight. Jordy Mercer came on to run. Barmes fell behind 0-2 trying to bunt, and struck out on a ball nearly in the dirt. McKenry hit a short fly to left center, and Garret Jones came up to hit. The lefty has only 10 at-bats against southpaws, but was the last bench player left. He went down swinging at a high fastball.

Span's catch saved the day for the Twins, but the Buc batters shot themselves in the foot tonight. Liriano came in with a win and a 6+ ERA, and Clint Hurdle will no doubt praise his slider in the post-game chat. But the scouting report was he doesn't throw the slider for a strike (he didn't), and the Pirate batters still couldn't lay off, even after going through the order. Plate discipline, plain and simple, cost them tonight.

Liam Hendriks faces James McDonald in tomorrow's rubber match.

  • Casey McGehee extended his hitting streak to eight games.
  • Erik Bedard overtook Clayton Kershaw tonight for most 3-pitch strikeouts (24) with three more against the Twins. He's also now five fan jobs away from 1,000 career whiffs.
  • Gerrit Cole went five innings in his Altoona debut, giving up twp runs on five hits and six K, tossing 74 pitches to get his first AA win.
  • Josh Bell, who had meniscus surgery, is resuming "light" baseball activities. The Bucs hope to get the 2011 draft pick involved in some live ball before the season ends.
  • 2008 16th round pick Wes Freeman has retired. The young OF'er was given $150 K to sign out of high school, but never developed at the plate, becoming another cautionary tale of prep projections.

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