Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Polanco, Bullpen Human; Bucs Dropped 7-3

Frankie Liriano's first inning didn't suffer because of strike-throwing; in fact, it featured a couple of pitches too much over the plate. Junior Lake lined a single to center with an out on a two-strike fastball that Liriano probably wanted up more. He stole second and trotted home when Anthony Rizzo crushed a slider that hing over the plate, coming within a row or two off leaving the yard. With two down, Justin Ruggiano singled thanks to the shift, but was quickly erased trying to steal. The Bucs went down in order - Josh whiffed, Gregory Polanco's first at-bat netted a pop behind the mound, and Cutch flew out to the right field corner.

Francisco mowed down the Cubs in the second with a pair of K; Chicago isn't very formidable in the bottom half of the lineup. Gaby started by driving a ball well to right center, but it hung for long enough for Ruggiano to run down. Martin's liner to center did sit for a single. Marte whiffed, seeing nothing but off speed stuff. Russ stole second on a delay, catching the infielders napping.  Jordy walked, but Clint Barmes' soft roller to third ended the frame.

It was 1-2-3 for the Cubs in the third. Frankie flew out a step short of the track in front of the bullpen, then Josh lined out softly to left. Polanco picked up his first hit, dropping a fastball away into left. Cutch followed by roping a first pitch heater into the bullpen, and the game was knotted. Gregory showed his exuberance by sprinting home - he is fast - and even Nick Leyva couldn't slow him down. Gaby walked and stole second by a fingertip, but Russ was jammed and popped out to third.

The Bucs had a quick change of pitchers in the fourth. After three pitches, Frankie walked around, trying to stretch his side, and after throwing a couple of pitches in front of Clint and the trainer, he went off the field, perhaps with an oblique. Jeanmar Gomez got an unexpected call to the hill.

Rizzo greeted him with a double to left, possibly catchable but misread badly by Marte, maybe because it was off a LH bat. Castro flew out to the track in center, moving Rizzo to third. Ruggiano was plunked in the shoulder to put Cubs on the corners. Gomez got Mike Olt looking, but Darwin Barney hit a one hopper over the 3B bag for a double and a run before Eli Whiteside bounced out softly to first.

The Bucs had an answer. Marte led off with a single...ooops, make that a leg double; he forgot to stop. Then he did what Marte does; Jordy hit a one hopper that Wood leaped up and grabbed; he had Marte in no man's land and tossed him out. Clint Barmes followed with a wedge shot single to right, and JT pinch hit, lining a single to left to jam the sacks. Josh drove the first pitch to fairly deep right center, plating Mercer and moving Barmes to third. But Polanco popped out to short, and that brought on Casey Sadler for the fifth.

He tossed a quick and clean frame. Cutch opened with an infield hit; Olt made a nice stop on the line to keep it from extra bases. Gaby lined a shot to left center, but has no luck today as Lake ran it down. Russ hit into your garden variety 6-4-3 DP, and it was on to the sixth.

Sadler fell behind Rizzo 3-1 before getting him on a grounder, then walked Castro and hit Ruggiano in the shoulder; he wasn't real happy, yapping his way to first after being hit for the second time. Luis Valbueno opinch hit. Like any pinch hitter, he was looking dead red, got a first pitch heater at the knees and almost took it yard, driving in a pair on a double that hit off the top of the Xfinity sign to put the Cubs up 5-3.

Marte opened with an infield single, beating out a weak one-hopper to short. Then we had another Marte moment. Jordy popped up a mile high while marte was running; Starling slid into second and lost the ball. He stood around second, then was easily doubled up. Barmes grounder ended the frame.

A whole bunch of bad things happened with two outs in the seventh. Lake bunted; the ball may or may not have rolled foul, but the mystery was quickly resolved when Sadler kicked it. Rizzo hit a ball sharply to right; Polanco was there...and it hit off his wrist to score Lake, generously ruled a double. Castro was served a flat slider, and he roped it into left for another run that shouldn't have been, and presented the Pirates with a mountain to climb. Justin Wilson came on to stop the bleeding.

With one gone, Josh yanked a pitch off his shoetops over third for a double, and went to third when Polanco rolled over and bounced out to second. That was it for Wood; Brian Schlittler, a righty, came on to face Cutch. Surprise - he walked him. That brought up Ike for Gaby and lefty Wesley Wright for Schlitter. Walker won the match easily, getting Davis to pop out on the first pitch. We would have gone with the righty on righty battle with Gaby, who had roped a couple of balls tonight. Jared Hughes came on for the eighth.

He went single, DP on a nice pick by Ike, and K. Pedro Strop took the ball, and gave up a leadoff quail to right to Martin. Marte bounced a two-hop DP ball to Castro; it hit off the heel of his glove and everyone was safe. Rally time? Nah. Jordy K'ed on three pitches, fishing for a slider, and Barmes hit into a 5-4-3 DP. Looked like a good spot to pinch hit to us, but not to Clint.

With an out in the ninth, Emilio Bonifacio beat out an infield ball up the middle when Barmes' throw tailed. Hughes quickly picked him off when he broke for second too soon on a steal attempt, and a tapper to the mound finished it off.

Lefty James Russell climbed the hill and faced Pedro; he walked him on five pitches. That brought out Rick Renteria, who called for closer Neil Ramirez. He balked Pete to second; he went to throw to first, but Rizzo was playing behind El Toro and Ramirez threw the ball straight into the ground. It took some prodding by Clint and an ump meeting, but they waved him up. It didn't help. Josh was jammed on a 3-2 pitch and fouled out to third, Polanco went down chasing a slider, and Cutch lined one to right at a perfectly positioned Ruggiano to end it.

OK, now we have Polanco-mania out of our system, and hopefully he does, too. The Cubs worked him down and away, and the ump gave them a little pad on the black, as often happens to a rookie, so the cat-and-mouse that Cutch went through is beginning with Gregory. PNC's right field is a tough spot because of the angles and different fronts on the fence, and he'll get accustomed to that, too.

The bigger issue is the health of Liriano; if he's out, the rotation is really stretched. And his early exit again exposed the long guys. The season will still play out around pitching depth, especially if the Pirates continue to put up 1-for-12 with RISP numbers as they did tonight. The Pirates had runners aboard every inning after the first, but hit into three DP and still stranded nine men.

Brandon Cumpton will take on Jason Hammel tomorrow night.

  • After the game, Clint told the media that Francisco Liriano had a left oblique strain. That makes him a likely candidate for the DL. If he does land there, he'll be joining Gerrit Cole and Neil Walker. It's been a rough week for Bucco health.
  • Interesting opening match up for Polanco. Travis Wood has held lefty hitters to .167 BA, and young Gregory is the only LH in the Pirate lineup. At Indy, he slashed .338/.415/.423 v southpaws in 80 PA and .315/.380/.447 during his minor league career, covering 441 PA. He went 1-for-4 against Wood.
  • Josh Harrison ended an 0-for-11 mini-slump.
  • The Cubs have won 6-of-8 games.
  • The attendance tonight was 31,567.
  • Draftee RHP Tyler Eppler from Sam Houston State has officially signed with the Bucs for a $200K bonus per Chris Cotillo of Inside Dish. That's slightly below the $217,900 sixth round slot allotment.

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