Pittsburgh Pirates: Long Ball Sinks Cody Ponce in Loss

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 25: Cody Ponce #44 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on May 25, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 25: Cody Ponce #44 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on May 25, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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4. 9. 3. 4. Final

The Pittsburgh Pirates are now a season worst 11 games under .500

Tuesday night at PNC Park the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs kicked off a three-game series. After placing Trevor Cahill on the injured list the Pirates handed the ball to Cody Ponce who made his 2021 season debut. Unfortunately, Ponce struggled as the Pirates fell to the Cubs by a score of 4-3.

Following the loss, the Pittsburgh Pirates are now 18-29 on the season. This includes a poor 6-18 record in their last 24 games. The loss came despite the Pirates jumping out to an early lead which, for the most part, has been a recipe for success this season.

Cody Ponce struggles in 2021 debut

In a move that surprised some the Pittsburgh Pirates tabbed Ponce to start in place of Cahill on Tuesday night. Many people, myself included, thought they would give the ball to highly touted prospect Miguel Yajure who had already made two strong starts for the Pirates this season. Instead, Ben Cherington and company went with Ponce who struggled.

The 27-year-old righty was handed an early 3-0 lead but started to give it back in the 3rd inning. Cub slugger Job Pederson hit a solo home run off of Ponce in the 3rd inning to cut the Pirate lead to 3-1. Then in the 5th inning, Pederson hit a 2-run home run off of Ponce to tie the game at 3. Ponce surrendered another run, and the lead, before his day ended.

Overall, Ponce pitched 5 innings on Tuesday night, allowing 4 runs on 9 hits, a walk, Pederson’s two blasts and just 2 strikeouts. In limited MLB action the long ball and control plagued Ponce in 2020, Tuesday night these two issues once again reared their ugly heads.

With rehabbing starter Chad Kuhl having turned in his second strong rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday night, there is a good chance that Kuhl will take Ponce’s next turn in the rotation.

A big day for Ben Gamel

Since being claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates veteran outfielder Ben Gamel had struggled. Tuesday night he turned in his best outing as a Pirate and was a big reason why the Bucs jumped out to an early lead.

Gamel recorded a double in the 1st inning and came around to score a run. In the 2nd inning Gamel singled in Will Craig for his first Pirate RBI. Gamel also drew a walk in the game, finishing his night 2-for-2 with a double, a walk, a run scored and his first Pirate RBI.

The veteran also had a good night in the field. He made a hustling play in the 2nd inning that prevented Ian Happ from going first to third on a Nico Hoerner base hit. Two batters later P.J. Higgins hit into an inning ending double play and the batter before that David Bote flew out on what would have been a sacrifice fly without Gamel’s strong play.

Pirates fail to hold onto early lead

Scoring first this season has typically been a recipe for success for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tuesday night, however, this was not the case as the Pirate offense failed to build on their early 3-0 lead on their way to suffering the loss.

Adam Frazier singled to start the bottom of the 1st inning, moved to third base on Gamel’s double and then scored on a wile pitch. Gamel then came around to score on a base hit by Jacob Stallings, making it 2-0 Pirates after the 1st inning.

With 1 out in the bottom of the 2nd inning Craig collected a double. After Frazier was hit by a pitch with 2 outs in the inning Gamel struck again with a single to center field. This base hit scored Craig and gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead. This, however, would be it for the Pirate offense.

The rest of the way the Pirates would walk 3 times and collect just a pair of hits. While both hits went for extra bases, neither generated a run for the Pirates. This included the Bucs wasting a lead off double by Cole Tucker in the 9th inning. Even after Tucker reached third base with just 1 out, a strikeout and a ground out would strand him at third base.

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What’s next?

Wil Crowe (4.91 ERA, 5.06 FIP) is scheduled to start for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night while Trevor Williams (5.97 ERA, 5.43 FIP) is scheduled to face his former club for the third time this season. First pitch from PNC Park is set for 6:35 PM ET.