Pittsburgh Pirates Defeat San Diego Padres, Stay Hot On Road Trip

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 18: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates (R) is congratulated by Elias Diaz #32 after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park May 18, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 18: Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates (R) is congratulated by Elias Diaz #32 after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park May 18, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

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On Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates became the latest MLB team to turn to using an opener in game 3 of their 4-game series in San Diego.

The Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation has been hit hard by injuries this season. On Friday, Trevor Williams was placed on the 10-day IL with a side strain. He joins Jameson Taillon on the IL, Chris Archer just came off the IL, and their top minor league depth options – JT Brubaker – currently on the IL at Triple-A. All of these injuries contributed to the Pirates deciding to use an opener instead of a starter on Saturday night in San Diego.

In the third game of their long weekend series against the Padres, the Pirates gave the ball to rookie reliever Montana DuRapau in the 1st inning. This was just fifth game of DuRapau’s MLB career, and his first technical start. In fact, it was the first time he started a game since he made 11 starts at Low-A back in 2014.

DuRapau excelled in the opener role. In 2 innings of work he allowed a base hit, issued a walk, and struck out four. His slider looked absolutely filthy and fooled Padre hitters throughout his outing. Through the first 6 2/3 innings of his MLB career DuRapau has allowed just 1 run on five hits, a walk, and nine strikeouts. He is quickly working his way up the pecking order in the Pirate bullpen.

The top of the 2nd inning saw the Pirates grab the lead. To start the inning Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds hit back-to-back home runs off of San Diego starter Nick Margevicius. Bell’s 13th home run of the season and Reynolds 3rd made the score 2-0 Pirates.

Pirate hitters continued to tee off on Margevicius in the top of the 3rd inning. Adam Frazier singled to start the inning, Starling Marte doubled, and the Pirates were in business. With one out in the inning, Bell launched his 14th home run of the season. This 3-run bomb made the score 5-0 Pirates.

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When Bell stepped to the plate San Diego manager Andy Greene should have done nothing other than intentionally walk him with one out and a base empty. Instead, he made the foolish decision of having Margevicius pitch to him and the MVP candidate made the Friars pay.

The Bucs had an opportunity to make matters even worse for the Padres in the top of the 3rd. Following Bell’s home run Reynolds walked and Elias Diaz singled. Colin Moran then hit a line drive right at San Diego shortstop Manny Machado and right fielder Franmil Reyes made a nice sliding grab to rob Kevin Newman of a hit. If not for some bad luck, the Pirates could have easily been leading by 6 or 7 runs after the top of the 3rd inning as Margevicius was fooling no one.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning Steven Brault took over for DuRapau.

Brault’s first inning of work was, to say the least, an adventure. He walked three and allowed a run-scoring hit to Machado. Although, Machado’s hit easily could have, and honestly should have, been ruled an error on Frazier as it was ball that should have been a routine play that produced at least one out. However, Brault then got a 5-4-3 double play ball to end the inning.

Gregory Polanco ran the Pirate lead to 6-1 in the top of the 4th inning when he led the inning off with a home run. Polanco’s 4th blast of the season also brought Margevicius’ night to an end. This was Polanco’s 2nd home run this season against a left-handed pitcher and ran his batting average against LHPs to over .300. While it’s a small sample size, it is still good to see Polanco having success against LHP due to his past struggles.

After Brault pitched a 1-2-3 4th inning, he ran into trouble again in the 5th. He allowed a one-out double and issued a walk with two-outs. But Brault would get Eric Hosmer to groundout to end the threat, keeping the score at 6-1 Pirates after 5 innings of play.

After allowing another run in the bottom of the 6th inning, Brault’s night ended with one out in the inning and a runner on first base. Pirate manager Clint Hurdle summoned Michael Feliz from the bullpen to replace Brault. Feliz would get the final two outs of the innings to the end 6th with the Pirates ahead 6-2.

In 3 1/3 innings of work Brault battled. Despite having control issues, he allowed just 2 runs on four hits. The first run he allowed would not have scored with better defense from Frazier at second base. Brault also walked four batters and struck out a pair.

Feliz came back out for the 7th inning and things did not go as smoothly as they did for him in the 6th. He allowed a bunt single to start the inning, retired the next two batters, and then allowed a two-out single to Hosmer. This brought his night to an end and brought Kyle Crick into the game.

While going to Crick was a bit of a knee jerk reaction by Hurdle, especially with the Pirates still up by 4 runs, the move paid off. Crick would strikeout Hunter Renfroe to end the 7th inning, while also closing the book on Feliz. In 1 1/3 innings pitched, Feliz kept the Padres off the board while allowing two singles and striking out a pair.

The patchwork Pirate bullpen continued to work in the bottom of the 8th inning when lefty Francisco Liriano took the ball. After allowing a lead off single, Liriano struck out the next three batters he faced to keep the score at 6-2 good guys.

With the Pirates leading 7-2, after tacking on an additional run in the top half of the inning, the recently recalled Geoff Hartlieb made his MLB debut in the 9th inning. Becoming the first member of the Pirates’ 2016 draft class to make their MLB debut, Hartlieb retired the Padres in order to slam the door shut in the 7-2 Pirate victory.

Due to injuries to Keone Kela and Nick Burdi and the ineffectiveness of Richard Rodriguez, the Pirate bullpen continues to be a question. Outside of Liriano, Crick, and Felipe Vazquez, Hurdle continues to search for consistency reliable arms. DuRapau appears to be evolving into this and I believe Hartlieb could become one as well. But until more reliable ‘pem arms emerge and/or Kela gets healthy, there could be a lot of uneasy late innings like there was for part of the game tonight.

With Saturday night’s victory the Pittsburgh Pirates improved to 23-20 overall on the season. This includes the team being 7-5 in the first 12 games of a vital 13 games in 13 days stretch, as well as being 6-4 on their current 11-game road trip. As this team has done throughout the first two months of the season, every time you think they may be on brink of coming unglued they rally together and prove us all wrong. For that, Hurdle and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit.

The Pirates also flashed some much needed power in Saturday’s night victory. Entering the game the Pirates had hit just 37 home runs which was the second fewest in the NL. In the 7-2 victory, they hit a season high four home runs.

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The fourth and final game of the series is scheduled for 4:10 on Sunday afternoon. Joe Musgrove (3.59 ERA, 2.91 FIP) is scheduled to take the ball for the Pirates as the Bucs attempt to pick up a series victory. Greene and the Padres will counter with Cal Quantrill (3.60 ERA, 2.72 FIP) who will be making just his third career MLB appearance.