Pittsburgh Pirates Mailbag: April 3rd, 2019

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 01: Colin Moran #19 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at the home opener at PNC Park on April 1, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 01: Colin Moran #19 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at the home opener at PNC Park on April 1, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Welcome to the first Pittsburgh Pirates mailbag of the regular season

Question galore about the Pittsburgh Pirates defense and the team’s issues at shortstop. Should fans worry about the bullpen’s slow start? And more in this week’s mailbag.

As always, thank you to everyone who submitted questions this week and participated. Now, let’s dive in!

There’s no way around it, the Pirate infield defense was bad in Monday’s home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals. The team lost 6-5 in 11 innings, and the infield defense was a big reason why.

A 7th inning error by Colin Moran and a 9th inning error by Erik Gonzalez both led to the Cardinals scoring unearned runs. Additionally, Gonzalez and Adam Frazier failed to turn an easy double play ball in the 9th inning. Had any of these three plays been made, the Pirates would have been victorious on Monday.

While the infield defense was expected to be a struggle this season – Moran, Frazier, and Josh Bell are all below average fielders at their positions – it should improve. If for no other reason, Gonzalez is a far better fielder than his performance on Monday would indicate. Gonzalez may never hit enough to warrant being an every day player, but he is a plus defender at shortstop and poor defensive games from him should be an aberration, not the norm.

However, even with improved defense from Gonzalez the infield defense may continue to hold this team back all season. Gonzalez playing defense to the best of his ability will not make Bell, Frazier, Moran, or even Jung Ho Kang who is an average defense at third base, any better.

To say the bullpen has struggled is not completely fair.

Yes, Richard Rodriguez has allowed two vital home runs already this season, but had Moran turned the aforementioned double play ball in the top of the 7th inning of Monday afternoon he likely gets out of the inning with the Bucs still leading 4-2. Instead, he exited with the bases loaded and no one out and the Cards were able to cut the lead to 4-3.

As for Steven Brault and Nick Kingham, well, they’re both long relievers for a reason. Few teams in baseball have quality long relievers, and Brault will be optioned back to Triple-A to make a spot on the 25-man roster for Jordan Lyles before Thursday’s game.

The team’s three best relievers – Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, and Kyle Crick – have combined to allow one unearned run on two walks, one hit, and seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings pitched. Additionally, Nick Burdi, who may be pitching in high leverage situations sooner rather than later, has faced seven batters and struck out five of them.

As for internal fixes, Burdi could be one of them. If Rodriguez continues to struggle the Pirates could easily swap he and Burdi’s roles. When looking at Triple-A, Brandon Maurer, Clay Holmes (who is now a full time reliever), Geoff Hartlieb, and Tyler Lyons are all potential depth options. Hartlieb especially, as he is a pitcher you can expect to be a member of the Pirate bullpen before the end of the season.

Dovydas Neverauskas and Michael Feliz remain options as well. Both have great stuff, but both continue to struggle to find consistency.

Shortstop is Gonzalez’s job. Barring a complete defensive implosion by him, this will not change. As was mentioned above, he is a better defender than Monday’s home opener showed.

If he continues to struggle could we see more of Kevin Newman at shortstop? It’s certainly possible. However, Newman has never done much to inspire hope or confidence in Clint Hurdle of the Pirates’ management.

As for Kang at short, offensively, that would be a massive upgrade over Gonzalez or Newman. Especially if Moran has turned a corner offensively. But the defensive drop off from Gonzalez could be immense. Additionally, the Pirates do not believe Kang’s knee would hold up long term at short. They also have concerns over his ability to turn double plays at short.

The Pirates have invested a lot in Chris Archer. While 5 shutout innings is something you will gladly take from your starting pitcher, in order for the team to get back to the postseason they need Archer to consistently go 6+ innings in his starts.

Only going 5 innings in Monday’s start was not completely on Archer. While, yes, he needed to be more consistent home plate umpire Jerry Layne was no help. He had a penny sized strike zone for both starters, and two of Archer’s three walks should have been strikeouts. Had that happened, odds are, his pitch count would have been lowered enough that he could have gone 6 innings.

The Pirates have a good bullpen, but getting 6 innings from their starters is still key. As we’ve covered, Rodriguez is struggling, Kingham probably should not be on a MLB roster, and Francisco Liriano is a lefty specialist with control issues. Until Rodriguez gets back on track and/or Hurdle begins using Burdi in high leverage situations with regularity, it will be key for the starter to get the ball to the Crick-Kela-Vazquez trio.

Hey- ahead of mailbag mailbag q if y’all will take it- probably been asked umpteen times, but with the pirates not even needing a fifth starter til the end of the second week, and having not even declared one on the roster yet, is there any chance at all we could see Keuchel signed as an AJ Burnett style vet who can give us a huge 1-2-3 playoff rotation- not to mention strongest in the NLC? – Jordan Kadrie on Twitter

Dallas Keuchel‘s name just keeps popping up with Pirate fans and understandably so. Jordan Lyles will get his first opportunity with the Pirates against the Reds on Thursday, but fans do not have high expectations.

It’s been said time and time again, but it remains true. Signing Keuchel would give the Pirates arguably the best starting rotation in baseball. It would also pushed Lyles to a long relief role, where he is best suited and pitched well last year for the Brewers, improving the Pirate bullpen as well.

That said, there are no signs that Keuchel will sign any time soon let alone with the Pirates. The team has more than enough payroll available to ink the for Cy Young Award winner, but, unfortunately, spending big on a free agent like Keuchel is not their style. So, don’t get your hopes up.

Next. Previewing AAA Indy. dark

That will do it for this week. If you ever have a question for the mailbag look for our Tweet each week asking for questions. Also, do not be afraid to ever ask a question for the mailbag on Twitter or Facebook.