On Sunday, the Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce hit a game-winning RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth inning off Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Arquimedes Caminero to give the Reds the 2-1 win and the series.
Though the game wasn’t high-scoring, there certainly were things to take from it.
Pirates struggle with runners in scoring position
Not to borrow from “Sesame Street,” but this first point is brought to you by the number ’34’—the number of Pirates who were left on base in the three-game series against Cincinnati.
This may not have been more frustrating than in the first inning.
Reds pitcher Tim Melville was making his major league debut and was having trouble locating his pitches. With runners on first and third, the big at-bat came with Starling Marte at the plate. While Melville never threw a strike, Marte didn’t show discipline at the plate and went down swinging.
Despite Melville walking three in that first inning, the Pirates had nothing to show for it.
Melville only lasted four innings, but he only gave up that one run. The Pirates worked the at-bats, but they didn’t get the hits when they mattered.
In this series, the Pirates went 5-for-35 (.143) at the plate with runners in scoring position, and they went 1-for-14 Sunday. Not cashing in on those opportunities hurt the team, and if the Pirates want to avoid a fourth-straight National League wild card game, they need to do better against divisional rivals. (Pittsburgh went 8-11 against Cincinnati last year.)
Last year, the Pirates struggled in April, and it cost them.
This season, April is still there for the taking.
Who saw Chris Stewart’s home run coming?
Stewart hadn’t hit a home run since Aug. 20, 2013, yet he nailed a pitch in the second inning and watched it go over the leftfield wall.
“I forgot what that feeling was like, it’s been a while,” Stewart said. “I was expecting the silent treatment, but I wasn’t going to let it happen. I’ve been waiting for too long.”
That silent treatment was led by Gerrit Cole, who has one of the strongest bonds with Stewart; the two were frequent batterymates last season. Stewart has long been teased by teammates for his lack of home runs, so the silent treatment was no surprise.
Smart hitting has long been a mantra for Stewart, and two hits in his season debut helped showcase that dedication. Stewart’s contract was extended this offseason, so his place in the clubhouse is secure. He is loved by his teammates, and, with that in mind, everyone was proud of him for that big moment.
“He finally filled that box in,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “Everybody is so happy for him. We have a joke that things come in bunches. I don’t know if those will come in bunches. He is the consummate team player.”
Jeff Locke’s strong outing lost in the shuffle
It’s rather bizarre that Locke’s career ERA at Great American Ballpark is significantly lower than his career totals—considering that Cincinnati’s ballpark is a hitter’s park.
Outside of a couple of missed locations in the first inning and a mistake that just cleared the rightfield wall in the sixth inning, Locke was dominant. He retired batters quickly and got timely double plays when needed.
Locke was a question mark to make this season’s rotation after struggling last year. In the second half of last season, he had a 3-6 record with an ERA over 5.00, and there were legitimate questions about whether Locke could even pitch six innings (he went past five innings in just four of his second-half starts.)
Sunday’s game was his first opportunity to showcase the changes he’s made to his pitching delivery, which looked good, and he’ll only become more consistent over time.
This was a good first step. The second test will come at home against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates will play two games on the road against the Detroit Tigers before both teams travel to PNC Park to compete in two more.
Jonathon Niese (0-0 7.20 ERA) will face Justin Verlander (0-0 4.50 ERA). Niese has faced the Tigers once, and Verlander was on the mound then, too. In that game, the Pirates’ left-hander allowed six runs in 4.2 innings. This season, Verlander had been scheduled to start the Tigers’ Sunday night contest against the New York Yankees, but the game was postponed because of weather.
Photo credit: Jon Dawson