Thursday, April 18, 2013

Walks, Homers Sink Bucs 6-4

The wind was blowing out, kinda like a Wrigley Field evening, and the game sure had the feeling of one of those nights.

It started off when BJ Upton took Jeff Locke's third pitch, a heater, and drilled it over the wall in left. The Bucs answered when Travis Snider drew a one out, four pitch walk off Julio Teheran, went to third on a Cutch pop double to right and plated on a Garrett Jones sac fly.

Locke survived the second, and the Pirates took the lead when Russell Martin dumped a 3-1 fastball over the fence in left, his first homer as a Bucco. The lead didn't last long.

In the third with two away, Locke, who had trouble finding the strike zone all night, walked Justin Upton on four pitches. Chris Johnson hammered a BP fastball to straightaway center and out of the yard to put the Bravos up 3-2. The Pirates tried to answer, but Neil Walker rolled into a 6-4-3 with two guys on to end the third.

The Buc lefty got through the fourth after a two-out boot by Pedro and a dribbled infield knock by Teheran turned up the heat, but he whiffed BJ Upton swinging at a changeup in the dirt. Pittsburgh tied it when Pedro blasted a ball halfway up the batter's eye in center, a drive estimated to carry 448'.

The good times didn't carry over; Justin Upton banged a 3-1 changeup knee-high and down the middle off the rotunda in left to put Atlanta back up 4-3 in the fifth. Locke walked a couple of more Braves, and that was it for him. He went 4-2/3 frames, giving up four runs on six hits with four walks and three K after tossing 95 pitches, with just 51 good for strikes. Justin Wilson got the last out.

The Bucs battled back as doubles by Snider and Jones knotted the game at four. With two away, pedro was intentionally walked and Martin juiced the sacks with an infield knock up the left side. Clint Barmes got a high heater and banged it fairly well into center, but it was just a loud, inning-ending out.

A walk and bunt in the sixth put Wilson in a bit of a jam. It took him an innings worth of pitches to get Reed Johnson to fly out. The at-bat lasted for 13 pitches, nine of which were fouled off, before retiring him. A wild pitch advanced the Bravo runner, Andrelton Simmons to third, and BJ Upton was intentionally walked to set up a lefty match with Jason Heyward. Wilson won that battle, striking him out swinging at 96 MPH heat.

Wilson took a seat as Alex Presley grabbed a stick to swing for him against RH reliever Anthony Varvaro. Didn't help; The King went down swinging at some hooks. Varvaro got Marte on three pitches; it was the fourth K for the outfielder on the night. At least Snider put it in play, bouncing out to first.

That brought on Jared Hughes. he got the first two outs handily before losing Dan Uggla on a full count slider. He escaped by striking out Juan Francisco swinging on a 3-2 offering; none of the six pitches was in the strike zone. Varvaro tossed another clean frame.

Hughes kept playing with fire; he lost Simmons on a 3-2 pitch to open the eighth and Gerald Laird bunted him to second. Evan Gattis hit for Varvaro. Hughes fell behind him 2-0 and gave him a sinker that didn't below the belt on the inside corner. Gattis didn't crush it, but got enough of the ball to hook it into the left field seats for his fifth homer. BJ Upton followed with a double. That finally drove Clint Hurdle to the pen again and Tony Watson took the bump. He got a well placed liner from BJ Upton to Barmes, who turned it into an unassisted DP. But the Bucs had a 6-4 hole with six outs to go against the league's best bullpen.

Eric O'Flaherty took the bump for Atlanta. With two outs, Barmes got a sinker up and bombed it to center, but the park held it for another loud out and O'Flaherty ended up with a 1-2-3 frame. Vin Mazzaro worked the ninth. With an out, Johnson singled through the right side; Uggla rolled one through the left side.He K'ed Francisco, but a passed ball off Russell's mask (crossed signals, we assume) put the runners at second and third with Simmons up. Mazzaro got him on a bouncer to first, and the Bucs were down to their last swings.

Craig Kimbrel came in to close it out for Atlanta, and he did in fine style, striking out the side. The Bravo bullpen was the difference, retiring the last 12 Buccos in order.

The Buc staff walked eight and gave up four homers; and two of those dingers had a walk ahead of them. That was the game. The Pirates need the starters to step up; the bullpen has eaten way too many innings. Five guys have been dependable - Wandy and AJ for the starters, with Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Justin Wilson picking up the bullpen. They all have ERA under three; the rest of the staff are around four or over.

It's tough going through a season with five pitchers. Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Jose Contreras are due back in the second week of May and as of right now, it sure looks like there will be a spot for them, with maybe one left over for Gerrit Cole in June.

Wandy Rodriguez takes the hill against Tim Hudson tomorrow night.

  • Travis Snider now has a six game hitting streak. Starling Marte and Neil Walker had their strings ended tonight. Marte struck out five times.
  • Nice night, bad crowd: 11,288 showed up for the game.
  • Charlie Morton made his first rehab start. His line was three innings, two runs on three hits with two strikeouts. He tossed 44 pitches, and was sitting at 93-95 with his fastball.
  • Stolmy Pimentel had what for him was a rough outing tonight because of control woes. He gave up a run in five innings on three hits with four walks and three K. It was the first score the Altoona righty has given up in three starts.

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