Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Game #3: It's the little things that count. That, and a stud pitcher.

Jones is electric in debut. Bats shine again. Marlins continue to look like the Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins
Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins / Brace Hemmelgarn/GettyImages

I used to chuckle at the excuses that former Pirates general manager Neal Huntington would give the press when explaining why certain prospects would not be getting called up until June. "So and so has to still work on some things," he would say. "He's not dominating at AAA, yet...His secondary pitches still need work." Huntington had a million of these excuses stored away in his brain and was quick to recite them in a concise and authoritative way, which if you were new to the scene, you might actually believe him.

But Huntington would never give the real answer, which everyone in the press knew anyway. The real answer was that the Pirates didn't want to lose a year of control over a player by having said player make the team out of spring training and start said player's service time clock toward free agency. But, for some reason, Huntington couldn't say that part out loud. So, as far back as I can remember, the Pirates' top prospects never made the team out of Spring Training. Not Barry Bonds, not Andrew McCutcheon, not Gerrit Cole. Not one of them made the Pirates out of Spring training.

So the first hint that something is different about the 2024 version of the Pittsburgh Pirates (besides the 3-0 start) is that Jared Jones made the club out of Spring Training. If the Pirates were not serious about trying to compete this year, Jones would be toiling in AAA Indianapolis.

In fact, even though Jones did not give up an earned run in 16 innings of work in Spring Training, as a long-suffering fan, I was preparing myself for what I thought would be the inevitable assignment of Jones to AAA Indy. In fact, in his last outing of the spring, although Jones did not allow an earned run, Jones walked four batters in only five innings of work. "There it is, " I thought. The excuse the Pirates would need to send him down. "He needs to work on his control." Never mind the fastball that can touch 100 mph or the wipeout slider. Or the zero earned runs allowed in Spring Training. "He needs to work on his control," would be the excuse given.

But, no. Praise the Lord. That is not what happened. Jared Jones was rewarded for his exemplary work in Spring Training and actually made the team. I don't know who was actually more surprised by that announcement, Jared Jones or Pirates fans.

And so there it was on Saturday. A player was throwing upper-90s heat. The ball was darting in and out and up and down and the batters were flailing at it. And the guy throwing those pitches, for once, is actually on our side. And the batters swinging and missing weren't wearing Pirates uniforms.

The Pirates won today 9-3. Jones was electric in his major league debut. He struck out 10 Marlins in 5.2 innings of work. He looked like an ace. That is the story that the sports writers will be telling.

But me? I want to talk about a few key moments in this game that will not show up in the box score and that some may have missed.

First up. Ke'Bryan Hayes is fast. He doesn't steal a lot of bases. And he's not in the conversation when talking about the MLB's elite speedsters. But Hayes is still fast. He's having a great start to the season, batting .444 with an OPS of 1.078. But Hayes impacts this game in the third inning with his speed. In the top of the third, with runners on first and second, Hayes hits a two-hopper to shortstop, which looks to be an inning-ending double play. But Hayes beats the throw to first and the inning continues.

In watching the replay, I note that the Marlins execute on their end what they need to do to turn the double play. The ball is fielded cleanly at short. The release to second base is quick and with a sense of urgency. And the relay to first is equally quick and urgent. But Hayes beats the throw anyway. There are not many hitters in MLB that could have beat that out. Even some elite runners may have been thrown out on that play because they might not have immediately hustled to first at the crack of the bat.

But not Hayes. He goes on an all out sprint to first base from the second the ball is hit and beats that throw. He beats that throw because he is fast and because he hustles. Without both of those in combination, it would have been an inning-ending double play.

The Hayes force out at second occurred on pitch 49 from Marlins starter Ryan Weathers. It would take Weathers 15 more pitches to get the third out of the inning. In between, Oliveres delivered a run-scoring single, Henry Davis was hit by a pitch, and Oneil Cruz coaxed six more pitches out of Weathers before striking out.

So, that's the impact that an unturned double play had on the third inning. But truly the impact of that play then stretched into the fourth inning. Remember, this is early in the season. Pitchers are not yet fully stretched out. So pitchers are on shorter pitch count leashes. And having had to throw an extra 15 pitches to get out of the third inning, and getting little rest in between because Jared Jones mowed down the Marlins one, two, three in the bottom of the third, Weathers returned to the mound for the fourth inning. And that's when things started to unravel for him, thanks to some poor defense from the Marlins.

With one out in the top of the fourth, Michael A. Taylor hits a line drive to left field. Left fielder Nick Gordon takes a poor path to the ball and has to dive to try to catch it. But even so, it is still a catchable ball. But Gordon somehow doesn't catch it. And the ball rolls by him. And Taylor ends up on second. The official scorer graciously awarded Taylor a double.

Now, remember that double play that wasn't made the inning before and the 15 extra pitches? Well, with two outs in the fourth, the Pirates lineup is turned around. The top of the order is now up. And they are getting their third look at Weathers. Only this time, it is a depleted Weathers - who is nearing the end of his pitch count allowance - that they are facing. And the Pirates seize on the opportunity. Connor Joe doubles in Taylor. Bryan Reynolds walks. And Ke'Bryan Hayes singles home Joe. And just like that the Pirates are leading 3-0. Such is the impact that beating out a double play ball can have on the game.

But two more Marlins gifts occur In the top of the fifth, thanks to some shoddy defensive play.

It starts innocently enough. With one out, Oneil Cruz hits a slow-chopping ball to shortstop. Except the shortstop is not at shortstop. He is playing close to second, and in his place, Jake Burger, the third baseman, has shifted over to cover the shortstop position. It's part of the shift that the Marlins (and probably the rest of the league) employ against Cruz.

Now most shortstops would have correctly charged the ball and made a strong throw to first to attempt to get the speedy Cruz. But Burger does not charge it. He instead remains flat footed and attempts a Hail Mary backhand stab to corral the bouncing ball. In real time it looks like a bull fighter lifting his glove like a cape and saying ole as the baseball passes by Burger's glove and into left field for what the score keeper again graciously rules as a single.

The next batter, Jared Triolo, then launches a double to left field to set up second and third with one out.

And that sets up the next Marlins miscue by none other than Josh Bell. In Thursday's game, Josh Bell threw out two runners at home, making us Pirates fans question where and when Josh Bell became a competent fielder. And the answer is, he didn't become a competent fielder. Thursday's performance was merely an anomaly. For the next hitter, Michael Taylor, hits a ground ball to Bell. Bell, instead of taking the out at first, makes an ill-advised attempt to get the speedy Cruz at the plate. The throw is wild and both Cruz and Triolo score on the play. Instant replay shows that even with a perfect throw, Cruz would have been safe at the plate.

Josh Bell played four and a half years for the Pirates. He was always a suspect fielder. For his career, he has a minus-nine dWAR. I miss Josh Bell, who hit 37 home runs for the Pirates in 2019. But I don't miss the Josh Bell who was incapable of turning a 3-6-3 double play and was a defensive liability. And seeing him make a crucial error in a game brings back bad memories of Josh Bell errors in the past when he wore a Pirates uniform. But, lucky us, he doesn't play for the Pirates anymore. He plays for the Marlins. And Marlins fans are learning that Josh Bell sometimes giveth at the bat, but sometimes taketh away in the field.

I bring up these small details because for decades it was this type of lack of execution of fundamentals that often visited the Pirates worst teams. Double plays not turned, catchable fly balls turned into doubles, first basemen who can't field. These are the type of things that happen to the Pirates. And when they occur to other teams, a part of me feels sorry for the other team. And the other part of me has to spot check what I've just seen to confirm that indeed it is not the Pirates making those errors.

In this series, it is most definitely the Marlins and not the Pirates that are making these errors.