Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bucs Running Out of Time; Drop 8-7 Decision to Reds

Drew Hutchison got the first two batters of his Bucco career before Joey Votto singled (welcome to that club) but no damage was done. The three outs were in the air to the outfield; the hit was a grounder, go figure. J-Hay swung at ball four and dropped it into shallow left between two befuddled Reds; guess a hit is as good as a walk. It took J-Bell two pitches to double into The Notch and send him home. Cutch walked, and an out later, JHK's rap tallied another point. JJ walked after falling in an 0-2 hole to juice the sacks. Robert Stephenson was sailing in rough seas, but the Bucco bugaboo saved him as Fran bounced into an inning-killing 6-4-3 DP on the 36th pitch of the frame.

Brandon Phillips started the second with a rap and another followed. Hutch bore down and got the bottom third of the order with a pair of whiffs book-ending a flyout. The Bucs went down on eight tosses. The Redlegs sat in order in the third. You can tell Bell fits in; he singled and was originally ruled out tagging to second on Cutch's fly. He won a reprieve on review; the call looked like it could have gone either way. It was big when Stephenson tripled up on curves to JHK and he hooked the third one just inside the LF foul pole to make it 4-0.

Kang-zilla was a monster again tonight (photo Pittsburgh Pirates)

Phillips singled with an out in the fourth, then Hutch plunked Scott Schebel. A soft roller crawled into center to chase Phillips home and a lob to right brought home another; the Reds are hitting 'em where they ain't right now. Another bloop loaded 'em, and a sac fly made it 4-3. To make it worse, ump Lance Barrett is really squeezing Hutch this frame. Zach Cozart tied it with a knock and made the last out at the same time, getting nailed by Gregory trying for second. Josh Smith took the ball for the Reds. He got two outs on three pitches, then walked Jason Rogers on four misfires. J-Hay reached on an error and Bell worked another free pass. The Bucs and bases loaded aren't a good combo; Cutch bounced out to third on the first pitch after two of the last three batters walked.

Trevor Williams got the phone call for the fifth. Votto doubled on a ball not played very well by Cutch, then an infield hit that didn't get past the mound and a bunt single loaded the sacks. A 3-2 walk gave the Reds the lead. He staunched the bleeding briefly with a 5-2-3 DP before Tucker Barnhart picked a slider off his shoetop and lined it to right to plate another pair. Good pitch, better hitting, and it was 7-4. Pittsburgh was 1-2-3'ed. Jeff Locke took the ball in the sixth, with Adam Frazier going to right and J-Bell to first. The Reds were held to a Votto knock. Jordy legged out a single with an out and Fraze was HBP; J-Hay doubled the duo home. That's the good news; the bad is that he pulled up lame at second; looks like a hammy. S-Rod took his spot and Blake Wood replaced Smith. He whiffed J-Bell, walked Cutch, then escaped by getting Gregory on a bouncer.

J-Bell continues to impress with a pair of raps (photo Pittsburgh Pirates)

Jeff was on Locke-down in the seventh. JHK fell behind 0-2, then watched the next four miss the mark. Two pitches later, Matt Joyce banged into a 4-6-3 DP and Fran rolled out. Juan Nicasio was waved in for the eighth and stranded a two-down double. Michael Lorezen got his turn, nicked only for an S-Rod knock. Votto led of the ninth with a long ball, and the Reds left a HBP and walk aboard. Tony Cingrani swooped in for the kill. He walked Cutch, who was forced by Gregory. JHK dropped a knock into left (Alen Hanson took his place at first), then Freeser went down on three pitches. Fran was the last gasp, and kept it alive with a run-scoring rap, with P-Flo taking his place at first. Lotta speed went to waste when Jordy grounded out to third.

There's not much to say about a team that can't beat the hoi polloi or win at home. They're still mathematically in it, we suppose, but there's just no stability. Skipping Kuhl and Taillon instead of pushing them back a day rattled a rotation that was showing some promise, and shifting players in-and-out throughout the game seems more like a Ted Mack audition than a strategy. And it's not clear where the FO plans to go next year, at least regarding position players.

The Three Amigos are all inked for next year (image Root Sports)

Cutch, Gregory & Starling are under contract next year, along with Fran, J-Hay, JHK, Freeser, JJ and Stew, with Jordy and J-Bell under team control. That leaves two spots open for 2017, with S-Rod & Matt Joyce becoming FAs; Fraze is likely to replace Joyce. It's not likely the team will eat salary, though a minor trade could free up space. The staff could open up - Jeff Locke, Jared Hughes and perhaps Tony Watson are non-tender candidates, while Ivan Nova, Neftali Feliz and Ryan Vogelsong are in their walk years. So it's no wonder there's a pitching carousel now.

As far as tonight's young arms, Hutch was effective when he stayed down, but he elevated his pitches some and was  over the plate at various levels a lot, although the big frame was fueled by a mash of soft knocks, a couple off decent pitches. His fastball sat at 90-91, touching 94, with some run and sink, but he has to locate consistently. Trevor Williams was also victimized by dinkeroos and some good two-out hitting; the Red offense has been in a September-long slump and they were due to find some grass; too bad it was tonight.

  • JHK had three more hits, with J-Hay & J-Bell adding a pair of knocks.
  • Joey Votto is 7-of-9 in the past two games. He was 4-of-5 tonight with a homer and double, a fitting celebration of his 33rd b-day.
  • Josh Harrison was pulled with "right groin discomfort." He left with a 10 game hitting streak to his credit.
  • Drew Hutchison is the 51st different player the Pirates have trotted out this season. The record is 52, set in 2011. He was the last guy on the current active roster to see time.
  • AJ Schugel (upper arm/shoulder) and Neftali Feliz (arm) are in "play catch" mode with no timetable for their return.
  • Pitt-Penn State still means something even after its long hiatus. A record crowd for a Pittsburgh sporting event of 69,983 showed up for the contest. The Bucs drew 25,198 tonight, so City ticket sellers had a good day.

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