Pittsburgh Pirates: Miserable Season for the Bullpen Continues in Loss

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Steven Brault #43 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the fifth inning against he Detroit Tigers at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Steven Brault #43 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the fifth inning against he Detroit Tigers at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

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On Friday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed the Detroit Tigers to PNC Park for the first game of a three-game weekend Interleague series.

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to suffer from a struggling bullpen. This was the case once again on Friday night as the bullpen was the reason the team lost a wild 17-13 extra innings affair against the Detroit Tigers.

Following the loss, the Pittsburgh Pirates are now just 3-11 on the season. This includes the team having lost eight of their last nine games.

Erik Gonzalez Stays Hot

Quietly, Erik Gonzalez is off to a strong start this season. Entering Friday night’s game with a 93 MPH exit velocity and 60% hard contact rate on the season. Friday night, he continued to ambush baseballs.

Gonzalez hit a two-run single in his first at bat, and then launched a 468-foot moonshot in his second at bat. The 106.7 MPH missile went deep into the left field seats, and gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 4-1 lead in the 4th inning.

Gonzalez came through again in the 7th inning when he laced a double to right field. This hit came with the bases loaded and drove in two more runs, he also singled in the 10th inning to put runners on the corners with no one out.

Gonzalez has always been a plus defender who has hit the ball hard. Now, those hard hit balls are turning into base hits. He is now hitting for a .357/.357/.571 slash line this season. A breakout season by Gonzalez may be unfolding before our eyes.

Chad Kuhl Dominates

The star of the early part of the game for the Pittsburgh Pirates was Chad Kuhl. In 4 innings pitched, the lone hit Kuhl allowed was a solo home run. He did not walk a batter and he struck out seven.

Throughout his start Kuhl made Tiger batters look bad. He kept them off balance and was flashing his power fastball and wipe out slider. On the season, Kuhl has now allowed just 2 earned runs on six hits, three walks, two home runs, and 12 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched.

Derek Shelton’s Maddening In Game Decisions Continue

For the second consecutive game with the piggybacking starters, Pirate manager Derek Shelton pulled his starter too soon. Last Sunday in Chicago, he pulled Steven Brault after he had pitched 3 perfect innings on just 36 pitches. As we have discussed, Kuhl was dominating on Friday night and had thrown just 56 pitches. Yet, Shelton still pulled him after 4 innings.

Brault took the mound in the 5th inning with the Pittsburgh Pirates leading 4-1, and things quickly went south. Brault faced six batters allowing a double, two singles and he issued three runs. This included two bases loaded walks.

Without retiring a batter, Brault was pulled. This brought Brault’s disastrous night to an end, and ruined the great work Kuhl had done.

While, yes, the Pirates entered the night with the plan to piggyback Kuhl and Brault, pulling Kuhl when he did was a terrible decision by Shelton. This decision looked even worse after Brault imploded.

Kuhl was dominating the Detroit line up and had only thrown 56 pitches. Piggyback plans or not, pulling him after 4 innings was foolish. Kuhl should have been permitted to at least start the 5th inning, and potentially even another inning if he continued to roll. Shelton should have waited until Kuhl showed any signs of fatigue to go to Brault.

While it might be difficult to criticize Shelton’s bullpen decisions too much due to the amount of injuries in the ‘pen right now, he still made a blunder on Friday night. Yacksel Rios pitched the 6th inning and allowed a run, then in the 7th inning he took the mound again. After allowing a double to start the inning and hitting Miguel Cabrera with a pitch, Rios should have been pulled. Instead, he was left in and it ended poorly.

After Rios issued a walk to load the bases with no one out, he was pulled by acting manager Don Kelly who took over after Shelton was tossed following an egregious missed strike call by home plate umpire Ramon DeJesus during the final at bat of the night for Rios. At this point, it was too little too late as the inning would end with the Pirates trailing.


What is PEHT? Well, Phillip Evans hype train of course! The incredible start to the season for the former minor league free agent signee continued on Friday night.

In his first at bat Evans singled and later scored on Gonzalez’s home run. Then in the 5th inning with the Pirates now trailing 5-4, Evans launched a three-run home run. His first MLB blast gave the Bucs a 7-5 lead. He collected his third hit of the night in the 9th inning, and drove in another run in the process.

For the first time in his professional career Evans is being given an extended look at the MLB level, and he’s taking the opportunity and running with it. Evans appears to be emerging as a potential long term options as a super utility man for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Yet Another Bullpen Implosion 

We have already discussed the struggles Rios had on Friday night. Before he took the mound, Geoff Hartlieb inherited a bases loaded with no one out mess in the 5th inning. While Hartlieb did a great job of limiting the damaging by only allowing one of the inherited runners to score, the problem is the run scored when Hartlieb walked in the run.

After Rios loaded the bases with no one out in the 7th inning, Miguel Del Pozo took over on the mound. Del Pozo allowed all three runners Rios put on base to score, as well as allowing three runs of his own. Overall, four of six runners the Pirate bullpen inherited on Friday night would score.

Nik Turley then allowed a run in the 10th, and Dovydas Neverauskas allowed four in the 11th. When the smoke mercifully settled, the Pirate bullpen had allowed 16 runs on 15 hits and five walks in 7 innings of work.

Late Inning Heroics

In the 9th inning, the Pittsburgh Pirates looked dead. With two outs and no one on base, the team was down to their last out while trailing 12-9. This is when things got fun.

Bryan Reynolds singled, Evans singled and then Adam Frazier stepped to plate. Frazier launched a game-tying home run to center field. This tied the game at 12 and sent the game to extra innings.

In the 10th inning, Gonzalez singled to start the inning putting runners on the corners with no one out. Cole Tucker then hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

While the 9th inning rally proved to be for naught, it was great to see the team continue to have a never say die attitude and fight back. The Pirates have now scored 16 runs in the 9th inning this season, which is the most in MLB. Unfortunately, their late inning heroics were not enough to keep up with their struggling bullpen.

Next. Grading the Series Loss Against the Twins. dark

What’s Next

At 4:05 on Saturday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers will play the second game of their three-game weekend set. Derek Holland (4.76 ERA, 4.00 FIP) will make his second Pirate start. Opposing the Bucs will be former Pirate Ivan Nova (4.22 ERA, 5.66 FIP).