Josh Bell, Bullpen Shine As Pittsburgh Pirates Earn Series Victory In Washington

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates with Jason Martin #51 after scoring in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates with Jason Martin #51 after scoring in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates earned a hard fought victory in the rubber match of their three-game series in the nation’s capital against the Washington Nationals

Baseball is a wonderful game, but some times even the most wonderful things in the world can be frustrating. Early on this season, baseball has been frustrating for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans.

Sunday afternoon was not a frustrating day, though. Instead, it was a day that featured a great baseball game and an awesome victory for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Following a hard fought 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals, the Pirates are now 8-6 this season.

Bullpen struggles and defensive blunders have already cost the team at least four additional wins this season. This was, once again, the case in D.C. over the weekend. Saturday afternoon’s loss came as a result of Richard Rodriguez allowing a pair of two-out solo home runs in the 8th inning, blowing the team’s 2-1 lead.

On Sunday, however, neither of these issues popped up. The bullpen was excellent, the defense was superb, and the Bucs picked up a great victory.

One of the major early season positives for the Pirates has been the play of Josh Bell and Colin Moran. Their hot starts to the season continued on Sunday.

Bell doubled home Adam Frazier with two outs in the top of the 1st inning and Moran singles him home. This gave the Bucs a 2-0 lead.

Bell ripped another double in the top of the 3rd inning. Smoking a ball down the right field line scored Frazier again, making it 3-1 Pirates. Moran then singled to center field, but Bell was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

If the Pirates are going to return to the postseason in 2019 they need Bell to take the next step as a hitter. The team needs Bell to be a combination of the on-base first player he was in 2016 and 2018 and the power hitter he was in 2017. So far this season, Bell has been that hitter owning a .314/.390/.627 slash line and a 157 wRC+ through his first 60 plate appearances this season. If this is a sign of things to come from Bell, the Pirate offense can be much better than anticipated this season.

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Sunday’s game was billed as a battle of aces between Max Scherzer and Jameson Taillon. Early on, neither pitcher would pitch that way, though.

After the Pirates scored twice in the top of the 1st, Taillon gave a run back in the bottom half of the inning. He was then burnt by a pair of weakly hot ground balls that snuck through the infield as the Nats scored twice to tie the game at 3 in the bottom of the 3rd inning.

While the weak ground balls were bad luck, Taillon’s poor location that half inning was not. He issued a walk to Michael Taylor to start the inning and threw far too many pitches that missed his spot.

Both pitchers would then settle in after slow starts.

With the help of some strong defense behind him, Taillon held the Nats to 3 runs in 6 innings of work. He allowed 7 hits, issued one walk, and he struck out four. It was great to see the Pirate ace settle in and finish the game strong after a shaky start. If not for a blister on his finger, Taillon likely would have pitched an additional inning.

Scherzer settled in to go 8 strong for the Nats allowing just the 3 runs. He would get a major boost from Anthony Rendon in the top of the 8th.

After Frazier doubled with one out, Starling Marte ripped a ball down the third base line. It appeared Marte had extra bases and the Pirates the lead, but Rendon made an insane play to stab Marte’s hard hit ball and throw Marte out at first. Scherzer then retired Francisco Cervelli to end the inning, keeping the game tied.

When Taillon’s day ended, Nick Burdi replaced him in the 7th inning. It was great to see Clint Hurdle continuing to trust Burdi in high leverage situations despite him being a rookie. Burdi rewarded Hurdle’s confidence by continuing what has been a great start to his season.

While he allowed a one-out single to Scherzer, he retired the other three batters he faced. Burdi also recorded a strikeout and he has now struck out 13 of the 27 batters he’s faced this season. That, folks, is good.

Hurdle would continue to manage the bullpen well in the 8th inning. In a move he needs to make more often, Hurdle played for the win instead of the save and went with Felipe Vazquez to face the top of the heart of the Nats lineup.

Vazquez would post a zero in the 8th and set the table for the Bucs to regain the lead in the 9th.

Bell walked to start the inning, but with two outs found himself standing on second base. This is when rookie Jason Martin would come through with a two-out, two-strike double into the left-center field gap.

Martin’s double scored Bell and gave the Bucs a 4-3 lead. Since making his MLB debut earlier this month Martin has done nothing but hit, and should continue to be in the lineup until the Pirate outfield gets healthy.

Vazquez would take the mound again in the bottom of the 9th inning. Entering this half inning Vazquez had not allowed an earned run all season. Things got hairy, but Vazquez’s ERA remains spotless.

A bloop hit, a walk, and a perfectly placed Adam Eaton bunt loaded the bases with one out for the Nats. Vazquez then cracked down and got a strikeout and a fly out to end the game.

Sunday’s victory might be the best of the season so far for the Pirates. The team fought and battled to get 3 runs off of arguably the best starting pitcher in the Majors, and the bullpen held up and posted three zeroes. Also, Sunday was arguably the best defensive game of the season for the team.

The icing on top was how well Hurdle managed the bullpen. He continues to trust Burdi in high leverage situations and going to Vazquez when he did were both smart moves. As was leaving Vazquez in to pitch a second inning, especially with off days looming tomorrow and on Thursday.

Raise it, Pirate fans, and enjoy the team’s first series victory in Washington D.C. since 2013. This was the best series the Pirates have played so far this season. Hopefully, it will catapult the Bucs into finishing the road trip strong in Detroit.

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After a day off on Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates will travel to Detroit for a two-game series against the Tigers beginning on Tuesday night. Joe Musgrove will make the start for the Bucs while the Tigers will counter with lefty Matt Boyd.