AJ Burnett had a very good outing in his regular season re-debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Pedro Alvarez, but it wasn’t enough for the Pirates to avoid getting swept by the Reds on yet another walkoff.
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The teams traded scoreless frames until the good guys scratched across a run in the top of the fifth. With the bases loaded, Gregory Polanco beat out a grounder to Zach Cozart for an infield-hit RBI that scored Pedro Alvarez. The big inning once again was elusive for the Pirates in the early season, as Andrew McCutchen grounded out in the next at-bat to limit the damage to one run. A scoreless Reds fifth followed, and in the top of the sixth, Alvarez launched a very impressive opposite field home run to give the Bucs at 2-0 lead at that point.
AJ Burnett, making his first meaningful start in black & gold since the 2013 postseason, looked good for the majority of his start, going 5.1 IP, throwing 87 pitches, 58 of them strikes. He struck out seven against just one walk, and gave up four hits on the day. Unfortunately, one of those was a home run by Joey Votto in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 2. Hurdle then pulled the plug on Burnett despite the fact that he did not look labored at all. This could be an indicator of how Hurdle plans to keep Burnett fresh at all costs this season.
After the damage, the teams traded scoreless seventh and eighth innings. The Bucs went down meekly in the ninth, with Alvarez, Mercer, and Tony Sanchez unable to do anything against Aroldis Chapman. Chapman was filthy as usual, including a mind-bending 89 mph changeup.
In the bottom of the ninth, Rob Scahill came on and give up a double to Todd Frazier, who advanced to third on a groundout by Devin Mesaroco. Marlon Byrd then hit a line drive sharply to Polanco, who bobbled the ball, allowing Frazier to score easily to end the game.
What Stood Out:
What stood out to me the most about the game today was the continued elusiveness of the “big inning” the Pirates need to put teams away. All told, the Pirates left 12 men on base, including McCutchen’s groundout with the bases loaded. Starling Marte continued to show a free-swinging mindset, with two clear strikeouts. As some of our readers pointed out on twitter, Marte seems to be struggling with hard breaking stuff early this year. Tony Sanchez and Alvarez also struck out twice on the day.
Tony Watson has rebounded nicely since his opening day troubles, working a textbook clean eighth inning. Jung ho Kang made his Pirates regular-season debut as well, coming in defensively in the bottom of the ninth. He did not get a chance to hit.
Of note: all three losses in the Reds’ sweep were charged to the Pirates bullpen.
The Pirates travel tomorrow to Milwaukee to begin their second series of the year. Jeff Locke will make his season debut as he opposes Mike Fiers. In a curious bit of scheduling mishap, ROOT Sports will not be televising either of the first two games in the series due to conflicting with Pittsburgh Penguins games, so 93.7 the fan or MLB.tv audio streams are your only (legal) options to follow along with the action.