Pittsburgh Pirates Roughed Up in Series Opener Against the Houston Astros
By Marty Leap
Roansy Contreras battled with his command from the start, which led to the Pittsburgh Pirates finding themselves in a big hole early in a blowout loss against the Houston Astros
Following the emotional rollercoaster that was their Sunday afternoon, maybe what happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night should have been expected. Not only were the Pirates coming off an emotional 1-0 series-clinching victory over the Chicago White Sox, but they also watched budding star shortstop Oneil Cruz fracture his ankle in the game on a play that led to the benches clearing.
Astro starter Framber Valdez was in control for most of the night as he showed why he is one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball. The Pirates found themselves in a big hole early, and never recovered as they lost 8-2 to fall to 6-4 on the season.
Poor command sinks Roansy Contreras
Looking to build off a strong start at Fenway Park to start the season, Roansy Contreras was looking to battle one of the best lineups in baseball. Unfortunately, from the get go Contreras had extremely poor command leading to one of the worst starts of his young MLB career.
In the 1st inning he issued a four-pitch walk and hit a batter. Then with two out, he put a pitch in the go zone that Kyle Tucker hit into left field to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. On the play poor base running by Yordan Alvarez helped the Pirates out as he did not originally commit to going first to third, allowing the Bucs to nail him at third after the hesitation.
In the 2nd inning the command issues continued for Contreras. He issued three more walks, including two more four-pitch walks, and hung a pitch to Alvarez that he was able to drive for a 2-run single giving the Astros a 4-0 lead.
It appeared Contreras may be able to start to right the ship in the 3rd inning when he retired the first two batters of the inning. However, three consecutive two-out base hits would lead to another Astro run. His day ended after adding a pair of runs with just one out in the 4th inning. Although he did generate nine swings-and-misses, Contreras threw just 44 of 83 pitches for strikes. He allowed 7 runs on nine hits, four walks, three strikeouts, and a hit batter in 3.1 innings pitched.
It was clear early on that Contreras had very little command, especially of his fastball. Many of his fastballs were not just balls put non-competitive pitches. This allowed a smart, talented Astro lineup to sit back on his slider and drive it when it was in the strike zone. The slider being hit is a rarity for Contreras. In his first start, he did not allow a single hit off of his slider.
Even though this is his second MLB season Contreras is still just 23-years-old. As a result, he will have a few starts like this one along the way this season. The key for Contreras will be bouncing back when he takes the ball in St. Louis on Saturday afternoon.
Ji-Man Choi hits first home run as a Pirate
Despite Houston starter Framber Valdez being one of the toughest left-handed pitchers in baseball, Pirate manager Derek Shelton still elected to put Ji-Man Choi at designated hitter and bat him fifth in the lineup. Choi, who entered the game stuck in an 0-for-14 rut, would reward Shelton's decision by launching a solo home run in the 2nd inning. Choi's 1st home run as a Pirate cut the Astro lead to 4-1.
It was just the 6th home run Valdez has allowed in 526.1 MLB innings pitched against a left-handed hitter. Additionally, it was just the 4th time in his MLB career and the first time in four years that Choi hit a home run off a left-handed pitcher as a left-handed batter.
Following Choi's home run Connor Joe drew a walk and Rodolfo Castro was hit by a pitch. While the door appeared cracked open for the Pirates to post a crooked number and get back into the game, Valdez does what great pitchers do and put a foot down. Valdez struck out Mark Mathias and then got Jason Delay to ground out to shortstop to end the inning.
More good bullpen work
Throughout the early portion of the season the Pirate bullpen has been among the best in baseball. This has come as a pleasant surprise as many people, including yours truly, thought the group could end up among the worst in baseball.
In Monday night's loss, the Pirate bullpen continued to exceed preseason expectations with another strong night of work. Wil Crowe relieved Contreras, and cleaned up the 4th inning while working around a fielding error by Castro. Crowe pitched 2.2 scoreless innings of relief. He did not allow a hit, walked three, and struck out three.
Rule 5 addition Jose Hernandez followed Crowe with 2 innings of his own. After striking out the first batter of the 7th inning, Hernandez got into a bit of trouble. However, with the bases loaded, just one out, and a run in, Hernandez got a line drive double play to end the inning. On the double play, a tip of the cap needs to go to Castro who snagged the ball and then made a dead sprint back to second base to beat the runner to the bag.
Hernandez retired the first two batters of the 8th inning, then got a line out to end the inning after a weakly hit bloop single to right field. Through the first 5.1 innings of his MLB career, Hernandez has allowed just 1 run on five hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. The Pirates appear to have a good one on their hands in Hernandez.
Fellow lefty Rob Zastryzny followed Hernandez. Zastryzny continued his strong early season work by pitching a quick, efficient 1-2-3 top of the 9th inning. Any time your bullpen has to cover 5.2 innings in a game and allows just 1 run you will take it, especially when it comes agaisnt one of the best lineups in baseball.
Things will not get any easier for the Pirate bats in game two of the series. The Astros plan to send righty Cristian Javier (3.27 ERA, 1.67 FIP) to the mound, while Mitch Keller (3.86 ERA, 3.48 FIP) is slated to toe the rubber for the Pirates. First pitch from PNC Park is scheduled for 6:35 PM ET.