Big hit hard to come by as Pirates fall to Tigers
PITTSBURGH – By nature, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle doesn’t waste time thinking about the things his team lacks.
So he’s not going to get worked about the dearth of home-run power in a lineup littered with good hitters unlikely to test the outer reaches of PNC Park. Hurdle likes his club’s approach at the plate and can point to its healthy .295 batting average as proof.
Hurdle just isn’t thrilled with the way all those hits struggle to translate into crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh pecked at Detroit’s Jordan Zimmerman and three relievers in a 7-4 loss to the Tigers on Thursday, falling for the fifth time in its last six games after going 5 of 16 with runners in scoring position and leaving 12 men on base.
“A couple base hits would have been nice in different situations,” Hurdle said. “I don’t look at what we don’t have. I look at the opportunities we’ve been able to create and are creating. It’s having that finishing at bat at the end, that at bat where you drive in two runs, something along those lines.”
John Jaso and David Freese had three hits each for the Pirates but Pittsburgh left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings off Zimmermann (2-0) and saw a potential rally in the eighth come to an abrupt halt when Jaso was thrown out at home trying to score on a double by Andrew McCutchen.
“It wasn’t poor baserunning,” Hurdle said. “Want to make that clear. It wasn’t poor baserunning. It was a decision that didn’t go right at the end of the play.”
Jaso didn’t mind the call from third base coach Rick Sofield, who rarely hesitates to take risks.
“We are an aggressive team,” Jaso said. “If anything, it is planting that inside of opponent’s heads. We do test things. We test opponent’s arms. We do do those things. It’s easy to say in this game anything from hindsight, anybody can.”
Gerrit Cole threw six strong innings in his second start of the season. Five days after a jagged 2016 debut against Cincinnati, Cole struck out five and walked one while giving up two runs, both coming following a mix-up with Jaso in the fourth. Justin Upton was on first with two outs and the count full to J.D. Martinez.
Cole attempted to pick Upton off first but Jaso was well off the bag. The throw sailed to the wall and Upton raced to third. Martinez eventually walked and Nick Castellanos followed with a two-run double that gave the Tigers the lead.
“There was no communication there,” Cole said. “I don’t think it affected the next at-bat, Martinez, made quality pitches to him … Castellanos stayed on the breaking ball. So that happens.”
Cole survived a scare in the sixth when a liner from Zimmermann glanced off his head. The ball grazed off Cole’s cap and into center field. He remained on the ground for several moments while getting checked out but stayed in the game.
“I hit the deck pretty hard,” Cole said. “I was just trying to get out of the way.”
Hurdle said Cole was “coherent” while responding to assistant trainer Ben Potenziano.
“Answered every question, looked us in the eye,” Hurdle said. “All the things Ben asked him to do he was able to do and all the questions, he answered.”
Pittsburgh’s typically reliable bullpen is going through a rough stretch, giving up 15 runs in 12 innings to the Tigers in the final three games of the series.
Tyler Collins hit an RBI double and Bobby Wilson hit a sacrifice fly off reliever Rob Scahill to put the Tigers up 4-0 in the seventh. Pittsburgh drew within one after Zimmermann exited, tagging Drew VerHagen for three runs in the seventh. Detroit responded immediately thanks to a rare shaky outing by Tony Watson.
J.D. Martinez’s sacrifice fly made it 5-3 and Castellanos followed with a shot a few rows deep into the sun-splashed bleachers in left field.
The Pirate put left-handed reliever Cory Luebke on the 15-day disabled list with tightness in his right hamstring and recalled Scahill from Triple-A Indianapolis. Luebke, who made the team as a non-roster invitee to spring training, is back in the majors for the first time since 2012 after going on a pair of Tommy John surgeries on his left elbow. Luebke has an 8.10 ERA in three appearances.
Pittsburgh opens a three-game series against Milwaukee tonight. Jeff Locke will make his second start of the season for the Pirates. Locke allowed one run in six innings last Sunday in Cincinnati. The 28-year-old is 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA in 12 starts against the Brewers.