The first career home run for Nick Gonzales was one of three home runs on the night in a 9-4 victory for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the San Diego Padres
Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Pirates debuted their city connect jerseys while kicking off a six-game homestand that could prove to be the pivotal point of the season. Entering the homestand the Pirates are 1-12 in their last 13 games, a slide that dropped the team from first place in the NL Central to 7 games under .500 and 5.5 games out of first.
If the Pirates are going to have any chance to stay in the NL Central race into July and beyond, they likely need to go at least 4-2 on this homestand. Well, the homestand got off to just about the best start possible.
A struggling Pirate offense exploded for 9 runs in a 9-4 victory over the San Diego Padres. Best of all, the offensive performance may not have even been the biggest positive of the victory. With this win, the Pirates are now 36-42 on the season.
By scoring 9 runs on 16 hits the Pirates snapped an 11 game streak of collecting seven or fewer hits. Their longest such single season streak of the modern era, which goes back to 1901. It goes without saying they were in dire need of a game like this.
Pirate offense has a much needed big night
When the Padres took a 3-0 lead in the top of the 2nd inning most Pirate fans likely thought the game was over and understandably so. The Pirate offense has been putrid in recent weeks and a 3-0 defict felt more like 10-0.
To the credit of the Pirate offense, they would quickly punch back.
Jack Suwinski drew a walk to start the bottom of the 2nd inning, Rodolfo Castro singled, and Ji Hwan Bae hit a sacrifice fly, cutting the deficit to 3-1. Nick Gonzales then stepped to the plate and hit a ball off the Clemente Wall for a triple. The first career hit and triple of Gonzales scored Castro. Andrew McCutchen singled home Gonzales with two outs in the inning to tie the game at 3.
Leading off the 3rd inning the early Pirate offense continued when Carlos Santana hit his 7th home run of the season. Santana's blast was followed by the 16th of the season from Suwinski, and, just like that, a struggling Pirate offense held a 5-3 lead after 3 innings.
Aided by a catchers inference when Austin Hedges was batting, the Pirate lead grew in the 4th inning. After reaching on catchers interference Hedges, who leads the majors in catchers interferences committed, would come around to score on a Henry Davis base hit to make the score 6-3.
Seeing this from the Pirate offense was a refreshing start. Not just seeing the Pirate offense put up runs and cashing in with runners on base, but also to overcome an early 3-0 deficit. Hopefully, this is what was needed to help get the Pirate offense back into gear again.
The Pirates continued to add onto their lead as the game went on.
Santana drove in another run with a run-scoring single in the 6th inning, this included heads up base running by McCutchen to score and Santana to get to second base. Getting to second base paid off as Santana would come around to score on a Castro base hit.
In the bottom of the 7th inning Gonzales hit his first MLB home run. His 442-foot blast made the score 9-4 Pirates.
A night like this is one the Pirate offense needed. Other than Bae, every player in the Pirate starting lineup had at least one hit. This included multi-hit nights for Castro and Hedges, as well as Suwinski getting on base safely multiple times. All three of them entered the game in prolonged hitless streaks.
Rich Hill battles through 6 innings
For the most part Rich Hill pitched well. In 6 innings pitched he allowed 4 runs on nine hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. Hill threw 63 of 101 pitches for strikes and induced a pair of ground ball double plays.
Most of the damage done against Hill came in the 2nd inning when the Padres scored 3 runs on five hits. In his other 5 innings pitched he allowed a run on four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. He also did a nice job of escaping a 6th inning jam by allowing just 1 run when things could have been worse.
It was not technically a quality start since he allowed 4 runs instead of 3, but Hill giving the Pirates at least 6 innings is exactly when Derek Shelton and the club needed. Hill battling through those 6 innings to exit with the lead was an even bigger bonus.
3 scoreless innings from Roansy Contreras
Remember when we said that the offensive explosion may not have been the biggest positive of the victory? Well, that's because the biggest positive may be the performance out of the bullpen from Roansy Contreras.
The struggles of Contreras have been well documented. Struggles that have led to him going from a potential budding ace to being sent to the bullpen to try and find himself. Well, that finding may have begun on Tuesday night.
In his 3 scoreless innings of work Contreras allowed two hits, walked a batter, and struck out three. The two most encouraging signs were him escaping a runners on the corners jam in the 8th inning and generating a game high 7 swings-and-misses. All big positive signs from Contreras.
Contreras was also aided by some stellar outfield defense from Josh Palacios.
Regardless of where the rest of this season goes getting Contreras back on track is vital for the success of the 2024 Pirates and beyond. Will this outing be looked back upon as the one that helped start to get Contreras back on track? As a wise man once said, time will tell.
Game two of the series will see the Pirates send their ace Mitch Keller (3.45 ERA, 3.27 FIP) to the mound. The Padres plan to start lefty Blake Snell (3.22 ERA, 3.86 FIP). First pitch from PNC Park is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET.