Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen woes the takeaway from first series


With three games in the books, the Pittsburgh Pirates remain winless.

And with three games in the books, the bullpen has itself a trio of losses under its belt – a troubling sign early on for a relief corps that was so utterly dominant at times over the course of the past two seasons.

The latest slip-up probably shouldn’t be dropped at the feet of the bullpen – given, it was the fateful ninth-inning error committed by right fielder Gregory Polanco that ultimately cost the Bucs their third-straight loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds.

That being said, reliever Rob Scahill allowed the leadoff double to Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier – who wound up scoring the winning run later in the inning. The night prior, a walk-off single off the bat of Reds first baseman Joey Votto sent Pittsburgh to a loss at the Great American Ballpark in an eleventh inning that quickly spiraled out of control for Pirates right-hander Rahames Liz.

After setting down the still-dangerous Brandon Phillips for the first out, Liz hit Zack Cozart with a pitch, putting the winning run on. Pinch-hitter Chris Dominguez was set down on strikes before Liz walked one of – if not the fastest men in the game today in center fielder Billy Hamilton. That walk set up the bloop single to right field that gave the Reds their second consecutive ‘W’.

As if the pair of walk-off losses weren’t enough for Pirates fans to stomach, Opening Day wasn’t exactly a memorable experience either, with star setup man Tony Watson getting roughed up for three runs in the eighth inning that broke a 2-2 tie. The Pittsburgh offense had struggled to make consistent contact all afternoon long and finally scratched across a pair of runs in the top of the eighth inning, tying the game. However, Hamiton and Votto each laced one-out singles against Watson in the bottom of the frame before Frazier came through with a clutch three-run shot to put the Reds ahead for good.

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Last season, Watson allowed five homers – all season – limiting opponents to a .232 batting average across 77 1/3 innings of work. So far this year, the left-hander has three innings to his ledger, and opponents are batting a red-hot .308 mark against him – to go along with his 9.00 ERA. The Sioux City, Iowa native is arguably the biggest piece of the Pirates bullpen, so limiting his struggles – even early on – will be key.

As a staff in the opening series, Pittsburgh has an unsightly 4.82 earned run average. The starters haven’t been bad by any measure: veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett tossed 5 1/3 innings Thursday, striking out seven, Francisco Liriano allowed just two runs over seven frames on Opening Day and Gerrit Cole – arguably the worst of the three starts in the series was still a five-inning effort in which he allowed three earned while striking out six.

So of the 13 total runs the Pirates allowed against Cincinnati this week to open the 2015 campaign, seven were charged to the three starters – which leaves six other runs charged to the relievers.

That doesn’t seem too terrible, until you take into account that Cole, Liriano and Burnett accounted for 17 1/3 innings of work – with the relief corps accounting for a mere 9 2/3 frames. Suffice to say, there’s room for improvement.

If the Shark Tank wants to lead this team back to the postseason for the third consecutive year, it’s going to take a lot better performance than what was turned in during the opening series of 2015.

Next: A.J. Burnett solid in his return to the Pirates