Miguel Andújar drove in three runs in his season debut, Rich Hill overcame poor defense to pitch into the 7th inning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates won game one of Saturday's doubleheader in Washington
After being rained out on Friday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to action on Saturday afternoon. The rainout did not slow down the red hot Pirates, however, as they defeated the Washington Nationals 6-3.
Following the victory, the Pirates are now 19-8 on the season. The Bucs continue to own the best record in the National League and are off to their best start since 1992. The team also started 19-8 in 1992, which is the last time they captured a division championship.
Rich Hill overcomes poor defense, goes 6 strong
Making his 6th start of the season, Rich Hill had to battle not just the National lineup. At times, he found himself having to battle his defense as well.
With the Pirates leading 2-0 in the 4th inning Stone Garrett reached on catchers interfernece. Following a Luis Garcia single, the Nats had runners on the corners with no one out. Hill recorded back-to-back strikeouts and was close to wiggling out of the jam.
Garcia took off for second base and appeared to be dead to rights. However, Austin Hedges did not throw down. Riley Adams then laced a double into the right field corner to tie the game at 2. The 4th inning was one that Hedges would like to forget.
In the 6th inning, poor defense hurt Hill once again. Ji Hwan Bae woefully misplayed a ball hit to center field. It was ball that Bae should have been camped under on the warning track for an out, but, isntead, he found himself leaping for it only to completely miss the ball resulting in a lead off triple.
Hill got the next three batters out, including convincing Derek Shelton to leave him in the game ahead of a strikeout of Adams to end the inning, but the run came around to score on a ground out. When the dust settled, it was certainly a start in which Hill pitched better than his final stat line.
In 6.1 innings pitched Hill allowed 3 runs, but only 2 of them were earned. He allowed eight hits, no home runs, did not walk a batter, and struck out five. Hill allowed 3 runs on a pair of home runs in his 1st inning of the season, in 31.1 innings pitched since then he has allowed 7 home runs while posting a 3.76 ERA.
As a side note, last season Pirate starting pitchers did not go 6 innings a single time in the month of April. Following Hill's start, that has now happened 16 times this April. That is the biggest reason why the Pirates are off to the start that they are.
Miguel Andújar makes a big impact in his return to the majors
After starting the season red hot at Triple-A, Miguel Andújar hit his way back to the majors. Saturday morning he was promoted to the majors by the Pirates and inserted in the lineup in right field. It did not take Andújar long to make an impact.
In his first at-bat of the season Andújar singled home Connor Joe, who hit his 4th home run of the season in the 4th inning, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning. Then in the 6th inning, Andújar launched a 2-run home run off of Carl Edwards Jr. His blast scored Andrew McCutchen, making the score 4-2 Pirates.
With his performance at Triple-A this season Andújar had more than earned a trip back to the majors. Moving forward, he will likely be in the lineup every time the Pirates face a left-handed pitcher. He may play some against righties as well. Hopefully this performance was a sign of Andújar's success at Triple-A carrying over into the majors.
Pirates waste 7th inning opportunity, then pad their lead in the 8th inning
In the 7th inning it looked like the Pirates may bust the game open. A Hedges walk, Reynolds double, and intentional walk to McCutchen loaded the bases with just one out. However, Joe struck out and Rodolfo Castro grounded out to strand the bases loaded.
Then in the 8th inning, the Pirates would add to their lead.
Andújar walked to start the 8th inning. After he was lifted for pinch-runner Jack Suwinski, ex-Pirate Anthony Banda came in out of the National bullpen. Banda hit Tucupita Marcano with a pitch and then fumbled around with a bunt by Bae.
With the bases loaded and no one out, Banda made the bold decision to throw a 3-2 changeup to Hedges. The Pirate catcher laid off the pitch for ball four, picking up a RBI along the way. Reynolds added a sacrifice fly, making the score 6-3 Pirates going to the bottom of the 8th.
Pirate bullpen does their thing
There have been a few hiccups along the way, but for the most part the Pirate bullpen has been a strength for the team through the first month of the season. The pleasant surprise that has been the Pirate bullpen continued in game one on Saturday afternoon.
After Hill retired CJ Abrams to start the 7th inning, Robert Stephenson got the final two outs of the inning. This included a strikeout. Pitching for the first time since blowing an 8-6 lead in the 8th inning on Tuesday, Colin Holderman bounced back with a 1-2-3 8th inning.
In the 9th inning it was renegade time. David Bednar continued his dominant start to the season. As "let's go Bucs!" chants filled Nationals Park, Bednar retired the Nationals in order to pick up his 9th save of the season as he slammed the door shut. Best of all, he did it on less than 15 pitches so he should be available for the night cap.
Game two of Saturday's doubleheader is scheduled for 6:05 PM ET. Vince Velasquez (3.76 ERA, 4.15 FIP) is slated to start for the Pirates. As for the Nationals, they plan to send ex-Pirate Chad Kuhl (7.36 ERA, 7.33 FIP) to the mound.