The Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed the Cleveland Indians to PNC Park on Wednesday evening for the final of three summer camp exhibition games between the two.
It took five months, but exhibition season is over for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a combination of 21 Grapefruit League/summer exhibition games, the regular season is now just two days away for the Pirates.
Originally, Wednesday’s game was scheduled to start at 7:05. But due to rain in the forecast, the start time was bumped up to 5:05. Without fans in attendance, this is something we may see happen from time to time during the regular season.
As for the game itself, the Pittsburgh Pirates were defeated by the Indians by a score of 5-3. Between Grapefruit League action and these three exhibition games, the Pirates went a lowly 3-18-2.
Making the start for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night was veteran lefty Derek Holland. Signed as a minor league free agent, Holland entered spring training back in February looking to pitch his way onto the Pirate roster. He has done just that, as he is now lined up to pitch the home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers next Monday.
In his final tune up start, Holland pitch better than his final line. A pair of weakly hit ground balls found holes for base hits in the 1st inning. In the 2-run 1st inning the Indians put together, Holland was also hurt by an Adam Frazier error.
When it was all said and done, Holland pitched 3 innings and allowed 3 runs, only 2 of which were earned. He surrendered five hits, a solo home run, walked one, and struck out two. He threw 61 pitches, 36 of which were for strikes.
With the Pirates trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the 1st inning, Josh Bell would get the team on the board. He launched a 2-run home run over the Clemente Wall in right field. For the time being, his 2nd home run against the Indians in exhibition play tied the game at 2.
When Holland’s day ended, Chris Stratton took the mound. The Pirate bullpen, Stratton included, had struggled in the first two exhibition games against the Indians. To his credit, Stratton looked like a completely different pitcher on Wednesday night, as he recorded a strikeout while pitching a 1-2-3 4th inning.
Quietly, Stratton pitched well for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season posting a 3.66 ERA, 4.11 FIP and 23.5% strikeout rate in 46.2 innings of work with the Bucs. His fastball spin rate was in the 93rd percentile in baseball and his curveball spin rate was in the 99th percentile. With his ability to pitch multiple innings, Stratton could be a weapon out of the bullpen this season.
With the Pirates trailing 3-2, Kyle Crick took the mound in the 5th inning looking to bounce back after a miserable outing against the Indians on Saturday night. Crick’s struggles, however, would continue as he allowed a home run to start the inning. He also allowed another hit, in addition to striking out the side.
If Crick can not find his 2018 form, the Pirate bullpen will be in a lot of trouble in 2020. Especially with Edgar Santana set to miss the season due to a PED suspension and the uncertainty surrounding Keone Kela. It is vital for the Pirate bullpen that Crick rediscovers his successful form from 2018.
What was most concerning from Crick was his velocity. His fastball averaged just 91 MPH and his slider 78 MPH on Wednesday night. Last season, his fastball averaged 95.3 MPH and his slider 81.5 MPH. The previous season, they averaged 95.8 and 81.5 MPH. That big of a drop in velocity from Crick ins alarming.
Clay Holmes was next up for the Pirates. Holmes quickly fired a 1-2-3 6th inning, which included a strikeout. Holmes is a player we have identified as a potential breakout candidate in 2020, and he looked like such a player prior to getting hurt in Grapefruit League play and again on Wednesday night.
Following a scoreless 7th inning from Robbie Erlin, the Pirates pulled to within a run in the bottom half of the inning. Jose Osuna singled to start the inning and was replaced by pinch runner Jason Martin who would score on a Jarrod Dyson double. This cut the Indian lead to 4-3.
Geoff Hartlieb, who was over from Altoona, had an impressive eight pitch 1-2-3 8th inning for the Pirates. Fellow minor league camp call up Miguel Del Pozo pitched the 9th inning for the Pirates, and allowed a solo home run to make the score 5-3 Indians.
It was good to see the Pirate bullpen pitch well on Wednesday night and finish exhibition play on a high note. Hopefully, this will be a nice shot of confidence in the arm of a group that had struggled this week.
In the 9th inning, James Karinchak took the mound for the Indians. After issuing back-to-back walks to Martin and John Ryan Murphy with one out, the Pirates had an opportunity to rally. But Socrates Brito would strikeout and shortstop prospect Ji-Hwan Bae popped out to end the game.
The next time the Pittsburgh Pirates take the field it will finally be Opening Day for the 2020 season. At 8:05 PM on Friday, the Pirates will play the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Joe Musgrove will toe the rubber for the Bucs and will be opposed by St. Louis righty Jack Flaherty.