Andrew McCutchen returns as Pirates fall to Orioles
McCutchen returned after 12 days off from spring work to rest his lower body, but the Pittsburgh Pirates fell to the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 9-2
Radhames Liz got the start for the Bucs, who continued their effort to keep Liz stretched out for possible spot-start work. Liz got off to a rough start, giving up consecutive singles to start the game. Liz then got a double play ball and a shallow fly out to centerfield to get out of the jam. McCutchen had to charge the ball hard to get the out, and the resulting sigh of relief from Pirates fans was audible for miles. Liz ended his day with 3.0 IP, giving up four hits and zero runs.
McCutchen’s first at-bat in his return was a garden-routine fly out. He ended the day o-for-2, but all reports are that his swing looked free of any ill-effects from the lower-body soreness that had kept him out of the last 12 days of spring action. McCutchen was unable to bring in Gregory Polanco, who had a one-out single and appeared to have stolen second before a questionable out-call that drew the ire of Pirate announcer Greg Brown.
Former Pirate Steve Pearce opened up the scoring in the fourth with a solo HR to center off of Jared Hughes, who struggled mightily almost immediately, giving up a well-struck double to Orioles hopeful Jimmy Paredes right after the home run, and an array of singles, doubles, and ground outs, before his day was mercifully ended after giving up five runs, all earned, on six hits over 0.1 IP. Rob Scahill came in and got out of the inning and pitched a clean fifth for an encore.
The Pirates threatened a big inning in the bottom of the sixth, loading the bases with no outs. Jaff Decker grounded into a double play that scored Tony Sanchez from third, and Walker followed suit with an infield-single RBI. The Pirates then loaded the bases again in the very same inning, only to see Mercer ground out to end the threat, leaving the Pirates with only two runs to show for their myriad baserunners.
When the dust settled, the Pirates could only muster two runs, while the Orioles continued to flex their offensive muscle, sending Pirates fans home from McKechnie Field disappointed.
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What Stood Out:
At the risk of repeating the obvious narrative, Andrew McCutchen’s return was a welcomed one. Perhaps more than any other Pirate batter, McCutchen’s power and ability to drive the ball is derived from his hips and legs, so the lack of any lingering effect on his swing was a considerable relief. Liz did put runners on base in his three innings of work, but showed a knack for inducing the double play ball to get out of the self-inflicted jams.
Pedro Alvarez had a very nice pick at first base in the second inning that drew praise from the Pirates announce team. Going into the game, Alvarez had a perfect fielding percentage on the back of 49 total chances in 44 innings of work. Those chances are comprised of 48 putouts and one assist. As a team, the Pirates turned three double plays in the first three innings of the game.
Jordy Mercer continued to solidify his grip on the starting shortstop position with a 1-for-3 day and his usual solid defense. Jeong-ho Kang was playing at second base, as Neil Walker served as the DH. This Mercer-Kang permutation could come into play this year, provided Kang can catch up to major league hitting quick enough to be relied upon as a means to get Walker more days off. Kang also stumbled in the field a bit as well, with several miscues leading to advancing runners in the disastrous fourth inning.
Tony Sanchez continued to shine, slugging two impressive doubles as part of a 2-for-2 day. Walker also impressed, going 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Off the field, Greg Brown and his broadcast partner John Wehner took the fourth inning off, allowing KDKA-AM’s Larry Reichert and John Shumway to try their hand at baseball. Oddly enough, they did a great job in calling the action during Hughes’ troublesome inning.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a rare day off from Grapefruit League action on Wednesday. On Thursday they will face the Atlanta Braves at McKechnie. First pitch is at 1:05 PM EST. Vance Worley toes the rubber for the Bucs against old friend Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez has bounced back from a disastrous 2014 to claim a spot in the Braves’ rotation.
Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette has your lineup for Thursday’s game: