Pittsburgh Pirates: Tyler Anderson, Bullpen Dominate Royals in Victory

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 27: Tyler Anderson #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Kansas City Royals at PNC Park on April 27, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 27: Tyler Anderson #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Kansas City Royals at PNC Park on April 27, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

7. Final. 2. 4. 1

Two teams off to surprisingly strong starts squared off at PNC Park on Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Pirates hosted the Kansas City Royals in the first game of a two-game series

Few teams in baseball are off to a more surprising start, in a positive fashion, than the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. Many people had pegged both teams to finish last in their respective divisions this season, yet through the first month of baseball both have played well.

The Pittsburgh Pirates entered Tuesday night’s matchup winners of 10 of their previous 15 games. Meanwhile, the Royals had won 4 games in a row and owned the best winning percentage in all of baseball. In the battle of two hot clubs it was the Pirates who remained hot. Driven by excellence pitching and defense, the Pirates picked up a 2-1 victory to get back over .500 on the season at 12-11.

Tyler Anderson Continues to Pitch Well

On February 17 the Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed starting pitcher Tyler Anderson to a one-year deal. Anderson is a former first-round pick who never reached his full potential with the Colorado Rockies or San Francisco Giants. Well, he appears to now be tapping into the potential as a member of the Pirates.

Tuesday night Anderson pitched a season-high 6 innings, limiting the red hot Royals to just 1 run on 3 hits, 2 walks and he struck out 5. The lone run he allowed scored when Carlos Santana reached on an infield hit one pitch after he appeared to have struck out looking.

Throughout the start Anderson kept hitters off balanced and limited hard contact. He has done that throughout the first month of the season which has played a big part in his success. An increase in swing-and-misses, which continued on Tuesday night, have been a key factor for Anderson as well.

Anderson has made 5 starts thus far this season. He has pitched 26.2 innings, striking out 26 batters, walking 8 and he’s allowed just 3 home runs. This comes out to a 3.38 ERA and a 3.50 FIP.  Whatever Oscar Marin and the Pirate staff saw in Anderson it has created one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in the National League through the first month of the season. If the Pirates do fall out of contention, Anderson should be a great trade chip in July.

Bullpen Excellence Continues

The biggest strength for the Pirates during their strong start to the season has been the bullpen. Tuesday night, the excellent work of the Bucco bullpen continued.

In relief of Anderson the first pitcher manager Derek Shelton turned to was Duane Underwood Jr. The righty pithed a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th and recorded a strikeout in the process. Next up was lefty Sam Howard. While Howard allowed an infield hit, he retired the other 3 batters he faced on his way to posting a zero.

Then in the 9th inning… well, that gets its own category.

Richard Rodríguez is Dominating

You would be hard pressed to find any reliever in baseball off to a better start this season than Richard Rodríguez. Rodríguez picked up his 4th save of the season by retiring the Royals in order in the 9th inning.

Rodríguez has now pitched 10.1 scoreless innings this season. He has allowed just a single hit, he’s walked just 1 batter, he has not hit a batter and he has struck out 10. Dating back to last season Rodríguez has now compiled 21 consecutive scoreless outings.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to do the impossible and be contenders this season they will need a dominant bullpen. Thus far, Rodríguez has been dominant and the bullpen anchor. Like Anderson, if the Pirates fall out of contention Rodríguez will make for a great trade chip in July.

Wilmer Difo Continues Clutch Pinch Hitting

With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the 7th inning Wilmer Difo was summoned by Shelton to pinch hit. This game after a terrific decision by Shelton to call for a hit-and-run and excellent execution by Jacob Stallings and Kevin Newman.

Difo proceeded to bloop a ball into shallow left field that just dropped in for a hit. This hit scored Stallings from third to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. This was a lead they would never relinquish, proving to be the game-winning hit.

On the season Difo is hitting is hitting .269/.296/.538 with a 124 wRC+. Fine numbers for a bench player. However, as a pinch hitter is where he has been clutch. Difo is now 4-for-11 this season as a pinch hitter. This includes a home run, a triple and 3 RBI.

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What’s Next?

The second and final game of this series is scheduled for 6:35 PM EST on Wednesday evening. Mitch Keller (7.16 ERA, 4.87 FIP) will look to build off a strong start his last time out against the Detroit Tigers, while the Royals are scheduled to send struggling veteran lefty Mike Minor (4.64 ERA, 4.69 FIP) to the mound. The Pirates will be looking to improve to 5-0-1 in their last 6 series played.