A head scratching decision to pull Mitch Keller and then making the wrong choice when selecting a bullpen arm for the 7th inning led to manager Derek Shelton costing the Pittsburgh Pirates a victory on Saturday
For much of Satuday afternoon's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to be on their way to a victory. They had their ace on the mound and bases clearing 3rd inning triple by Ke'Bryan Hayes had given them a 3-1 lead.
Unfortunately, in the 7th inning the tide would turn. The Arizona Diamondbacks were able to grab a 4-3 lead that they did not relinquish, dropping the Pirates to 24-21 on the season. What was even more unfortunate is that a driving force behind this Diamondback victory was Pirate manager Derek Shelton.
Early in the season Shelton was having a fine season as the team's manager. Well, in recent weeks there has been an uptick in head scratching decisions from the fourth year manager. Saturday afternoon was just the latest example of this.
It started when Shelton decided to pull his ace, Mitch Keller, after 6 innings of work. Other than solo home run by Ketel Marte in the 1st inning, Keller retired every batter he faced in the first 5 innings of the game. Once again, the Pirate ace was dealing.
After retiring the first two batters of the 6th inning, Keller hit a batter and allowed back-to-back weakly hit infield singles. The second of which plated a Diamondback run, cutting the Pirate lead to 3-2. Keller was able to minimize the damage though as he snagged a sharply hit ground ball from Christian Walker and tossed it to first base to end the inning.
This is where Shelton made his first blunder.
Through 6 innings Keller had allowed just three hits, two of which were infield hits, hit a batter, and did not issue a walk. Keller was in control and had thrown just 84 pitches. Well, Shelton decided to pull Keller.
After the game, Shelton said there were concerns Keller had lost his arm slot. Maybe there were some concerns over Keller being uncomfortable pitching out of the stretch in the 6th inning since he had not yet had to do that on Saturday. Well, the good news is to start the 7th inning he would have been pitching from the wind up again.
Keller should have at least been permitted to start the 7th inning. Then if he got into trouble, Shelton could have gone to the bullpen. Put pulling his ace in that situation, an ace that is developing into one of the best starting pitchers in baseball was nothing short of foolish by Shelton and likely cost the Pirates a victory.
At this point Keller has earned the right to be given every opportunity to work through innings. He has earned the benefit of the doubt. Shelton has mostly shown that confidence in him, but simply did not do that on Saturday.
After making the decision to pull Keller, Shelton made his second mistake. With the Pirates leading 3-1 in the 7th inning he went to Robert Stephenson. If he was going to pull Keller then he should have gone to Dauri Moreta.
Stephenson has had some shakiness this season. That shakiness continued on Saturday when he allowed a base hit and then a Pavin Smith home run to start the 7th inning. Stephenson now owns a 1.54 HR/9 and a 13.6% walk rate this season. His average opponent exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel rate are all above league average as well.
As for Moreta, after retiring both batters he faced including a strikeout in the 8th inning, he now owns a 37.5% strikeout rate and 0.87 HR/9 this season. Moreta's slider has been arguably the best pitch of any reliever in baseball this season. If Keller was going to be pulled, then Moreta should have been the guy in the 7th.
This loss was a frustrating one for the Pirates. Facing a struggling starting pitcher, they gave their ace a 3-1 lead after 3 innings and were staring a series victory in the face. However, the offense failed to do anything else and blunders by Shleton led to a loss. Now the Bucs will have to beat a very tough customer in Merrill Kelly on Sunday afternoon in order to still win the series.