Francisco Cervelli leads the way as Pirates top Rays 7-6
By Jake Misener
Francisco Cervelli homers as Pirates top Rays
Francisco Cervelli caught former teammate A.J. Burnett for the first time since 2011, also leading the charge at the dish, reaching base three times – including a home run, as the Pittsburgh Pirates topped the new-look Tampa Bay Rays, 7-6.
The difference in the contest came late – with the Pirates plating single runs in both the eighth and the ninth – with the latter proving to be the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Rays. Pedro Florimon‘s solo blast against Kevin Jepsen in the eighth tied the score at seven-all and, in the ninth, a clutch base hit gave the Bucs their first lead since the fifth.
Offseason acquisition Steve Lombardozzi led off the ninth with a walk and after Michael Suchy flew out to right, and with Jaff Decker at the dish, the former Washington Nationals infielder swiped second base, putting himself into scoring position with two outs in the inning. Wilkin Castillo then followed with a clutch RBI single that put the Pirates ahead for good.
After Tampa Bay (9-9) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the first, the Pirates answered back in the top of the fifth – plating four runs in the frame. An RBI groundout off the bat of Starling Marte cut the Rays’ lead to 2-1 before an Andrew Lambo single played Neal Walker, tying the contest.
Cervelli followed later in the frame with a two-run blast, scoring Lambo and himself, and giving Pittsburgh a 4-2 lead that hardly lasted as Tampa Bay came right back with four runs of their own in the bottom of the frame against Burnett and Pittsburgh reliever Brad Lincoln.
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Burnett was charged with five earned on three hits and a trio of walks in his 4 2/3 innings of work, raising his earned run average on the spring to an unsightly 6.39.
Putting together another impressive game at the dish, center fielder Gorkys Hernandez racked up three hits, which pushed his average above .400 in 14 Grapefruit League games this spring. As a team, the Pirates tallied 10 base hits – but Hernandez was the only one with multiple knocks.
What Stood Out:
Through his first four innings of work, Burnett was hit for just a pair of runs – which would have been a decent outing. However, the wheels came off in the fifth – when he allowed two walks and a run-scoring triple that pulled the Rays within one run.
What exactly Pittsburgh will get from the near-40-year-old right-hander remains a mystery. Two years ago, he was a major reason the Pirates made the postseason. Last season, he was shellacked as a member of a dismal starting rotation in Philadelphia.
So, per usual, all eyes will be on the veteran as we near Opening Day. He’ll need a strong bounce back outing later this week to get back on course.
Pittsburgh (10-8) will take on a Baltimore Orioles (8-13) team that is facing a lot of questions after a disappointing offseason. Despite losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the club was optimistic moving forward.
However, with Matt Wieters out for the foreseeable future with an injury – and given his health issues in the past – it’s a major concern moving forward.
Ubaldo Jimenez (1-3, 8.74 ERA) will take the ball for Baltimore – and will be opposed by Radhames Liz (0-0, 2.57 ERA) – who has pitched very well for Pittsburgh in seven innings of spring work. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT at McKechnie Field.