Following another blown lead by the bullpen, the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost six games in a row
On paper, Wednesday night’s match up at Sun Trust Park between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves looked like a pitchers duel between a pair of rising young stars. Mike Soroka, the best rookie pitcher in baseball, took the hill for the Braves. Meanwhile, the Pirates countered with one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball – Mitch Keller.
This was Keller’s second career start, and, like the first, it did not go according to plan. As we will get to, it was not all Keller’s fault, though. Soroka did not pitch to his normal standards, either. However, the Atlanta bullpen out pitched the Pittsburgh bullpen and this helped power the Braves to an 8-7 victory.
With the loss, the Pirates are now 6-17 in their last 23 games. This was the team’s 6th consecutive loss, and they are now 30-37 on the season. Not good, folks!
In the 1st inning, Keller was the victim of some bad luck. Freddie Freeman reached on an infield hit that was hit 45.1 MPH. Then with two outs, the Braves scored their first run of the night when Nick Markakis blooped a 73.8 MPH single into shallow left field to make it 1-0 Atlanta.
However, Keller also created some problems of his own. He threw a poor two-strike pitch to Austin Riley that resulted in a 2-run triple and he also walked a pair.
After a scoreless 2nd inning, Keller ran into trouble again in the 3rd. With two outs and runners on second and third, Soroka picked up just his second hit of the season with a single just out of the reach of shortstop Kevin Newman. This made the score 6-2 Braves.
Against Soroka, the Pirates did something no team had done this season – they had success. Entering the night Soroka owned a 1.38 ERA and had allowed 1 earned run or less in nine of his first 10 starts of the season. Throughout the night, Soroka would struggle with fastball command.
More from Rum Bunter
- Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Stockwatch: Outfielder Tres Gonzalez
- Pittsburgh Pirates Podcast: Rum Bunter Radio Talks Winter Meetings Fallout
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Leadoff Hitters in 2023
- Pittsburgh Pirates: The Rotation is not being Improved
- Pittsburgh Pirates Make Vince Velasquez Signing Official
Josh Bell and Melky Cabrera recorded back-to-back singles to start the 2nd inning. Adam Frazier and Elias Diaz then came through with a pair of run-scoring singles. However, Keller would then bunt into an inning ending 3-5-4 double play.
In the top of the 3rd inning Newman singled to lead things off and Starling Marte picked up a one-out base knock. Soroka then got Bell yo fly out before shortstop Dansby Swanson made an terrific play to retire Cabrera on what looked like a sure fire bloop single to left field that, with Marte’s speed, may have tied the game at 4.
Jung Ho Kang and Adam Frazier record back-to-back hits to start the 4th inning. This gave the Pirates eight hits, which is the most Soroka has allowed in a start this season. Diaz then hit a ball up the third base line that had infield hit to load the bases written all over it. But, Atlanta third baseman Josh Donaldson made an alert play to find the bag, anchor his foot to it, and reach to scoop the ball to retire Kang.
Pirate manager Clint Hurdle then summoned Colin Moran to pinch hit for Keller with two on and just one out in the inning. Soroka struck out Moran, but then with two outs Newman doubled down the left field line. Newman’s two bagger plated a pair of runs and cut the Braves lead to 6-4.
In 3 innings pitched Keller allowed 6 runs on 10 hits, he walked a pair, and struck out a pair. While Keller made his share of mistakes and did not generate enough swings and misses, the Pirate pitching philosophy did not help. Keller’s best pitch is his curveball. He did not throw a curveball until his 31st pitch of the night. At this point, the Braves already led 3-0.
The Pirates had Keller attack pitchers with his fastball. Keller’s fastball is more than good enough to play at the MLB level, but to not have him go to his curveball, or his slider, more often in two strike counts made no sense. As I wrote about last May, the Pirate pitching philosophy is too fastball heavy and is broken. Yet, over a year later, nothing has changed.
Clay Holmes replaced Keller in the bottom of the 4th inning. After Holmes pitched a scoreless inning, Marte led off the 5th inning with his 10th home run of the season. It was just the 2nd home run Soroka has allowed this season, and it cut the Atlanta lead to 6-5.
In the worst start of his MLB career, Soroka allowed a career in both runs (5) and hits (10) in just 5 innings of work. He walked a batter, and struck out a career low tying three. His 5 innings pitched tied his shortest outing of the season.
After a second scoreless inning of work from Holmes, Josh Tomlin took over for the Braves in the top of the 6th inning. With one out in the inning Gregory Polanco recorded a pinch hit single, and Newman’s third hit of the night put runners on the corners with just one out. Corey Dickerson then hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 6.
Thanks to Donaldson hitting into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play, Richard Rodriguez pitched a scoreless bottom of the 6th inning for the Pirates. Francisco Liriano would take over for Rodriguez in the 7th inning.
Liriano retired the first two batters of the inning. Then with two outs, Ozzie Albies reached on a throwing error by Kang. With Liriano ahead in the count to Tyler Flowers 1-2, the rain that had started to fall intensified and Brian Gorman called for the tarp. Just like that, the two teams were in a rain delay for the second time in as many nights.
After a 55 minute rain delay, Liriano would walk Flowers. Liriano then got pinch hitter Charlie Culberson to fly out to end the 7th inning, with the game still tied at 6.
Liriano deserves a lot of credit for finishing off a scoreless 7th inning. Taking the mound after a near hour long rain delay is a lot easier said than done, especially for relievers. To Liriano’s credit, after looking like he would struggle with his control post-delay, he honed it in and got the final out of the inning.
Facing the struggling A.J. Minter, the Pirates had an opportunity to strike in the top half of the 8th inning. Diaz drew a walk with one out and Newman was intentionally walked with two outs. Minter, however, would strikeout Dickerson to end the inning.
With the game tied and the top of the Braves lineup due up, Hurdle went to Felipe Vazquez in the bottom of the 8th inning. While, odds are, Hurdle only went to Vazquez because he hadn’t pitched since last Thursday and needed work, it was still great to see Hurdle use his best reliever in the game’s highest leverage situation, instead of saving him for a save.
Vazquez issued a walk and hit a batter, but he also struck out the side in the inning. This sent the game to the 9th inning, still tied at 6.
Entering the 9th inning the Pirates had not led in the game, but this would change. With one out in the inning, Josh Bell hit his 19th home run of the season off of Atlanta closer Luke Jackson. The solo blast gave the Pirates a 7-6 lead.
With the Bucs leading for the first time, Kyle Crick was summoned to pitch the bottom of the 9th inning. Leading off the inning, Austin Riley hit a home run off of Crick to tie the game at 7. This was the second time in the last week that Riley hit either a tying or go ahead home run off of Crick in the 7th inning or later.
After a pair of walks, Crick found himself facing Dansby Swanson with two outs and two men on base. Crick would bounce back to strikeout Swanson to bring the 9th inning to an end, and send the game to extra innings.
Prior to the 9th inning, the Pirate bullpen had been excellent on Wednesday night. Holmes, Rodriguez, Liriano, and Vazquez combined to pitch 5 scoreless innings. This was great to see with how much the Pirates bullpen – especially relievers not named Liriano, Vazquez, or Crick – have struggled this season. Unfortunately, Crick had an uncharacteristically off night, which helped lead to the Pirates demise.
As extra innings began, the Pirate bullpen was in dire straits. Michael Feliz, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Geoff Hartlieb, all three of whom started the season in the minors and have pitched poorly at the MLB level, were the only relievers the Bucs had left.
Feliz was summoned first. To his credit, and the surprise of most, he was able to pitch a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th inning. In the 11th inning, things did not go as smoothly for Feliz. Leading off the inning Feliz hit Riley. He would then score the game winning run on a walk off double by Albies. Just like that, the game was over, the Pirates were 8-7 losers, and their losing streak hit six.
The fourth and final game of this series is scheduled for 12:10 on Thursday afternoon. Joe Musgrove (4.40 ERA, 3.78 FIP) will make the start for the Pirates after throwing just 18 pitches before his unwarranted ejection on Monday night. Brian Snitker and the Braves will counter with longtime Pirate killer Julio Teheran (3.03 ERA, 4.21 FIP). On Thursday afternoon, Musgrove will become the first Pirate pitcher in over 50 years to start two games in the same series.