Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gallardo, Big Inning Drop Bucs 4-1

Yovani Gallardo, a long time Bucco killer, got through the first with minimal damage, a grounder through the hole by Neil Walker. AJ Burnett didn't start off that well; Norichika Aoki doubled up the right field line. Nyjer Morgan bunted him to third, but there he remained. AJ caught Ryan Braun looking and nailed Aramis Ramirez swinging, and it was scoreless after one.

The Bucs went down in order in the second; Gallardo has four K already. Corey Hart led off with a single, and Ricky Weeks traded places with him after a forceout on a weak roller. Martin Maldonado dropped a bunt down the left side for a knock, but a pair of balls hit in the dirt ended the inning.The inning featured a nice stop by Jordy Mercer and a spikes-up slide into Walker by Maldonando; we'll see if AJ remembers that next time the catcher's up.

Jordy Mercer, getting a rare start, dinked a fastball the opposite way to start off the third with a ground rule double. AJ couldn't move him up, striking out. Drew Sutton flew out to left and The Kid K'ed to end that threat, whiffing on a pair of high heaters. The Brewer staff has struck out 33 Bucs in 21 innings so far this series. AJ put the top of the Milwaukee order down 1-2-3, helped by a nice running grab of a Braun liner to right by Garrett Jones.

The heart of the Buc order was due up in the fourth, and Cutch gave the Bucs a 1-0 lead. He fell behind 0-2, took a couple of chase pitches and then banged a slider away over the wall in right. Gallardo recovered to get the next trio of Pirates, fanning two more. AJ tucked the Brew crew away, and has not only been cruisin', but has used just 39 pitches over four frames.

The Pirates went down quietly in the fifth, and yes - Gallardo struck out another pair. Maldonado became the third Brewer to lead off with a hit when he turned on a fastball and banged it up the left field line for a two bagger. Jeff Bianchi tapped back to the mound; Burnett had a play at second, but took the sure out at first. Gallardo got ahead of AJ 3-0, but was caught looking three pitches later. Aoki bounced out, and the Brew Crew laid another goose egg.

Pittsburgh had the top of the order up in the sixth. Gallardo got the first pair to run his streak to nine consecutive Buccos, but Cutch lined a 3-2 heater into left to end it. Jones bounced out, and hey - only one K; maybe the Bucs are catching on.

The Brewers jumped ahead quickly. Morgan slapped a single up the middle, and Braun followed with a single to right. Jones airmailed the routine toss to second, allowing Nymo to score and Braun to take third when AJ didn't cover the bag as his infielders chased down the ball. With the infield in, A-Ram chopped a curve up the middle, and it was 2-1.  Hart struck out, but A-Ram was going and caught Walker's arm with his slide as Barajas' throw was well to the first base side of the sack. The Kid's glove ended up by the shortstop, but he got back to his feet with just a sore wrist. Can't even get a strike 'em out, throw 'em out against A-Ram, though it was surprisingly his fourth stolen sack of the year.

Then the wheels came off. A Ricky Weeks grounder bounced off Pedro's shin to the tarp (he was given a home town double), allowing Ramirez to score and Weeks to get to second. Malonado dropped a soft flare into right; it spun toward the railing for a double, and it was 4-1.

So much for the Bucs catching on to Gallardo; he struck out the side in the seventh, setting a personal best with 14 K. AJ answered with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Francisco Rodriguez came in and followed in Gallardo's footsteps; a perfect frame with a pair of whiffs.

That was it for Burnett, who went seven innings, giving up four runs on eight hits with seven whiffs, throwing  82 pitches. Juan Cruz took the ball in the eighth, and put up a zero with a two-out walk his only blemish. John Axford came out to close it for the Brew Crew, and he did pretty routinely, surrendering only a knock to who else but Cutch.

Well, certainly not panic time yet, but 45 strikeouts in a three game series is a red flag. They've done this before - the Tigers punched out 41 Bucs. And just as Justin Verlander was in command then, so was Gallardo today.

But the key to the Pirate woes early in the season was a lack of discipline, and we hope it doesn't rear its ugly head again. Bad habits are never shy about returning. Especially worrisome is the post-break Pedro, who fanned 7-of-11 at bats against the Brew Crew though he was the victim of some bad umping. So we'll be keeping an eye on that in the coming few days, especially if the club has problems in the upcoming series against a terrible Rockies staff.

The Pirates will be in Colorado tomorrow, where it will be a battle of the Jeffs - Karstens vs Francis.

  •  Cutch now has four consecutive games with a homer. The last Pirate to accomplish that feat was Garrett Jones from July 10th-17th, 2009. The last Bucco to homer in five straight games was Jose Castillo, from June 26th-31st, 2006.
  • Neil Walker wasted no time extending his hitting streak to 15 games with a first inning knock. It's the longest Pirate streak since, well, Walker strung together a career high 18 games with a hit in 2010. 
  • AJ's win streak ended at nine, and the Pirate win streak with him starting ended at 13.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports says he hears there's nothing serious going on with Upton talks and the Bucs are not considered a good fit. That would make sense; Arizona is thought to want a MLB ready third basemen, something the Pirates lack in their system.

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