Despite two losses, Pirates pitchers excel
By John Mehno
For the Mirror
PITTSBURGH — The Pirates wound up splitting their four-game weekend series with the Chicago Cubs.
A 2-2 record didn’t do them any good in the standings at this point of the season, and .500 should never be a reason for excitement.
But the two losses were 1-0 games, and the series was characterized by outstanding starting pitching.
Sunday’s starter, Jameson Taillon, followed up on the good work that had been done previously in the series by Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Ivan Nova.
Surprised by that, and the generally good work the Pirates’ rotation has been turning in lately? They aren’t.
“This hasn’t caught us off guard,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “This has not caught the pitchers off guard.”
The Pirates have been trying to build a solid starting staff, and it looks promising for 2019.
Of the current five starters, only Taillon is homegrown. Musgrove, Williams, Nova and Chris Archer came to the Pirates in trades.
The idea is to come up with young pitchers who can stay together for multiple seasons. Quality starting pitching is still the toughest commodity to acquire, and the toughest to retain because of the way salaries escalate for successful starters.
This group has bonded and grown together, as evidenced by the dugout hugs when a starter concludes a good game’s work.
“We’ve been having great hope,” Hurdle said. “We’ve been the first believers. They’ve been building together. Growing together. It started in spring training.”
Taillon has now gone 15 consecutive starts without allowing more than three earned runs. Williams has been on a roll after a rocky start with his command this season.
Musgrove has a 2.12 earned run average over his last five starts.
Hurdle said it’s no coincidence that the starters are improving as they pitch on a regular basis.
“They have more information, more league awareness, swing awareness,” he said. “In many ways, experience is the best teacher. Sometimes it’s the only teacher.”
Hurdle credited bench coach Tom Prince with calling the pickoff play that got the Pirates out of trouble in the 10th inning.
He said Prince made the call when Elias Diaz fired to third to nab Addison Russell.
Diaz said Russell was expecting the Cubs to call for a squeeze bunt.
“That’s why he was so far off the base,” Diaz said.
Prince noticed, and called for the throw.
“The Cubs are aggressive,” Hurdle said.
Starling Marte was caught between third and home on a play that cost the Pirates a potential run Sunday.
The way the offense has been slumping, they need every run they can get. After being shut out in the first two games of the series, the Pirates scored three runs on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Mistakes on the bases have been frequent, and Hurdle indicated he will address it today.
“We’ll unpack all that (today),” he said. “We got in our own way a number of times on the bases.”
The Atlanta Braves are in town for a three-game series to complete the homestand.
This is the Pirates’ first meeting with the Braves this season. They travel to Atlanta on their next trip.
Mehno can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org