Pittsburgh Pirates Drop First of Three Exhibition Games Against Cleveland
By Marty Leap
Saturday night the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to the field at PNC Park for the first time since last October for the first of three exhibition games against the Cleveland Indians
Ladies and gentlemen, Pittsburgh Pirates baseball is (sorta) back! For the first time in over nine months the Pirates took the field at PNC Park on Saturday night. On Saturday night, the team was defeated by the Cleveland Indians 5-3 in the first of three exhibition games between the two teams.
Joe Musgrove started for the Pirates on Saturday night. In his final tune up before starting for the team on Opening Day this upcoming Friday, Musgrove looked terrific. His pitches looked filthy on his way to allowing just a hit, issuing one walk and striking out five in 3 scoreless innings of work.
After Musgrove’s night ended, we got our first taste of the Pittsburgh Pirates piggyback plan for the final starting rotation spot. Steven Brault pitched a pair of scoreless innings, and then Chad Kuhl added a pair of his own.
After missing all of 2019 due to Tommy John Surgery, this was Kuhl’s first time on the mound in a game at PNC Park in over 24 months. Kuhl’s stuff looked electric and he looked calm and composed on the mound. All of this was great to see, as Kuhl could be primed for a big season for the Bucs.
With the game scoreless in the bottom of the 5th inning, Erik Gonzalez ripped a single to left field. Catcher Jacob Stallings then hit a ball to left field that was miss played by Cleveland left fielder Domingo Santana resulting in a double. Guillermo Heredia, who could be the team’s starting right fielder until Gregory Polanco recovers form the coronavirus, then ripped a single up the middle. This gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Gonzalez’s strong night at the plate continued in the 6th inning when he lined a ball to center field. His second hit of the night scored pinch runner Phillip Evans who replaced Josh Bell after Bell doubled to start the inning, this made the score 3-0 Pittsburgh.
Hopefully the hard contact will be a sign of things to come from Gonzalez this season. He is a defensive wizard at both third base and shortstop. If he can add a little more offense to his game, Gonzalez can be a quality player for the Pirates.
Kyle Crick, who could be the team’s closer with Keone Kela on the injured list, took the mound in the 8th inning. Walks were a major issue for Crick in 2019, as he walked 15.5% of batters faced. Control issues plagued Crick on Saturday night as he walked the first two batters he faced.
Following a one out single, the Indians had the bases loaded. Crick then allowed a bases clearing double when he missed his spot with an 0-2 slider, tying the game at 3. Christian Arroyo’s double chased Crick from the game, as Derek Shelton then summoned Dovydas Neverauskas from the bullpen.
Neverauskas’s night started by allowing a run-scoring double that gave the Indians a 4-3 lead. The tall Lithuanian righty then got a fly out and strikeout to end the inning. The double aside, Neverauskas had a lot of life on his fastball and good bite on his breaking pitches on Saturday night.
During spring training, Neverauskas had posted a 3.00 ERA while striking out seven batters and walking just two in 6 innings of work. Out of minor league options, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a decision to make with Neverauskas. It looks like Neverauskas is pitching his way onto the Opening Day roster, after entering the spring on the outside looking in.
Right-handed pitcher Nick Burdi took the mound in the 9th inning for the Pirates. After allowing a lead off double and recording a strikeout, a wild pitch and a hit batter gave the Indians runners on the corners with one out. Greg Allen then hit a ball that Pirate first baseman Will Craig could not handle that should have been an out, allowing a run to score making it 5-3 Indians. Burdi then recorded a fly out and strikeout to end the inning.
In his career, health has always been Burdi’s biggest question mark. He has all of the tools needed to be one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. It will be fun to watch Burdi’s development this season. If Shelton looks for a designated closer with Kela out, his best option is Burdi.
Entering the 9th inning, the Pirates found themselves trailing 5-3. Despite a lead off single by Craig, the Pirates would go down quietly following a 5-4-3 double play and a ground out.
Monday night at 7:05, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians will battle in exhibition action once again. Monday night’s game will be played in Cleveland, and will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet in Pittsburgh. It will also be broadcast on the Pirate Radio Network.