Thursday, July 5, 2012

Karstens Cruises; Bucs Win 2-0

Jose Altuve got the 'Stros going against Jeff Karstens quickly, grounding a single to left and then stealing second. JK bore down, and nailed the next trio form Houston routinely - shallow fly to center, K, and pop up. The Bucs got a few pitches from Bud Norris, but only sent three batters up. Drew Sutton got a 2-0 heater, but exploded his bat on contact and rolled out to second. Neil Walker drew a walk on a 3-2 curve that could have gone either way. Cutch was ahead 3-1, had the count go full on a gift strike, and then swung through a slow slider while The Kid was on the move for a strike 'em out, throw 'em out DP.

Chris Snyder spoiled a pretty good second for JK. With two outs and two strikes, he rolled a sinker off the dish into center. Other than that, Karstens put the order down swinging. The Bucs opened with back-to-back doubles by Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee to draw first blood. Pedro advanced McGehee to third on a grounder, but Mike McKenry and Clint Barmes couldn't take advantage, both grounding out to the left side. Even though the Pirates have been scoring bushels of runs, they've left a lot of ducks on the pond this series; let's hope it doesn't bite them tonight. After two, it's 1-0 Pittsburgh, the first time the club has scored first in the Houston set.

Karstens is in the groove; he retired the Astros on five pitches in the third. The Bucs again threatened to run away with the game, but settled for a marker. JK fell behind 0-2, worked the count full and lined a fastball into right for his first knock of the year. Sutton K'ed, but Walker, also down 0-2, caught a fastball that he drove to left. JD Martinez looked like he had it measured after a long run, but couldn't come up with the catch and it bounced into the seats for a ground rule double.

Norris never threw Cutch a strike; even so, he worked the count to 3-2 before losing him. Then Jones smoked a fastball to the Notch, and this time Martinez made a very nice running catch to limit the damage to a 400' sac fly. McGehee was hit below the wrist to load the bases for Pedro, but this time Norris wiggled away, getting him swinging at an outside heater after lining one just foul and then looking at a fastball on the inside half below the belt, a pitch we'd bet he'd like back. At the end of three, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Scott Moore led off the fourth with a rope to right. After a pair of fly outs, he moved to second on a balk, but JK got Brian Bogusevic to bounce to McGehee to end the frame. The bottom of the Buc order went down 1-2-3 in the fourth.

Snyder drew a 3-2 walk to open the fifth, but a 6-4-3 off the bat off Matt Dominguez, who the Astros just picked up for Carlos Lee, and a K of Norris cleaned up the frame. The Bucs blew another opportunity in their half. Sutton led off with a double off the Clemente Wall, and The Kid walked on four pitches. Cutch lined a ball up the middle, but Altuve was there, positioned by the bag at DP depth. Sutton inexpicably broke for third before Norris was even in his windup with Jones up, and was easily picked off. Jones flew out, and another chance went out the door. The Bucs are 1-for-7 with RISP after five frames.

In the sixth, Jed Lowrie golfed a sinker into right for a knock; JK retired the other 'Stros routinely. He's tossed 73 pitches and fanned six through six.  Norris mowed down the Pirates, picking up a pair of whiffs to bring his total to five. Karstens set Houston down in order in the seventh. The 8-9-1 hitter for the Bucs could do no better; it's still 2-0 going into the eighth.

Karstens is cruising; it took him seven pitches to close down the frame while collecting his eighth K. Brett Myers, both because he needed the work and because Brad Mills wanted to keep the score within reach, worked the eighth and put down the Pirates quietly.

Karstens had Houston eating out of his hand, but inexplicably Clint Hurdle brought in Joel Hanrahan in the ninth to close. JK was working on a four hit, 89 pitch shutout and was yanked; we're sure Hurdle had a reason, and we're sure we won't like it. (He said after the game it was because it was only his third game back from the DL so he didn't want to push it; the only excuse we'll buy is if JK told Clint he was gassed.) To add a little gas to the fire, the decision also means Hanny won't be available tomorrow against the Giants.

Hanny, of course, had to add the max drama. He walked the first batter on five pitches, and the strike was a blown call.  Scott Moore made up for that, grounding a slider to Walker to start a 6-4-3 DP. The next batter, Martinez, walked on a 3-2 pitch. He was off and running and got to third when Hanny's first pitch was airmailed over McKenry. But Chris Johnson hit a soft liner to right that hung up for Jones to tuck away, and the Bucs had their sweep.

Hey, a win is a win. But Pittsburgh caught an Astro team that looks a lot like the 2010 version of the Pirates, and failed to cash in on opportunities all series long; that will cost them against a higher caliber club. And Hanny hasn't been right since his long layoff; let's hope the All-Star game gets his juices pumping again.

The Bucs were said to be looking for another starter to add to the mix; there may not be one out there better than JK right now. With Starling Marte a possible call-up sometime after the All-Star break, the trade market for Pittsburgh may not be nearly as critical as it was six weeks ago.

Barry Zito and Erik Bedard hook up tomorrow night in the last series before the All-Star break.

  • Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to nine games while Pedro Alvarez's ended at six.
  • This was Jeff Karstens first start at PNC Park since April 7th. Another cool stat: in his last 32 starts, JK has only walked more than two batters twice.
  • Rod Barajas was a late scratch from the lineup again tonight; he said his leg was still sore.
  • 21,386 attended tonight's game after a healthy walkup this afternoon.
  • Some not so good minor news: Yamaico Navarro was arrested for DUI in Indy last night and spent the night in the lockup.

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