Before the game started, I joked on Twitter that Clint Hurdle needed to manage this game like it was Game 7 of the World Series because of tomorrow’s impending Wandy Rodriguez start. Then I went off to Durham to watch some Triple-A baseball and only really kept tabs on the Pirates’ score and how Francisco Liriano was pitching. I got home just in time to see Clint Barmes field a ball at first base, checked the box score, and saw that Hurdle did, in fact, use 12 total position players and four total pitchers.
There is obviously plenty of good to be found in this game. Liriano made what might have been his best start of 2014 (he was excellent on Opening Day, too, but, well, Cubs). His fastball was averaging 93 and topping out at 95. I mentioned before the game that I thought that Liriano had been moving back towards his 2013 self for a couple of starts; I think tonight he may have gotten there. One start is not the same thing as consistency, but it’s promising. The bullpen continued their recent run of solid pitching, too, by keeping the Brewers off of the board for two innings while the score was 1-1 before Mark Melancon closed out the win in the bottom of the ninth.
The Pirates’ ninth inning rally against Francisco Rodriguez came from the bottom of the order: Ike Davis and Jordy Mercer continued their recent hot streaks with singles, Chris Stewart singled Davis home, and then Starling Marte (who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth, then stayed out in the field for the eighth and the ninth) doubled Mercer and Stewart home.
It occurred to me recently that I haven’t written much about the hitters lately — I tend to focus on pitching a lot most of the time regardless of circumstances and it’s been such a huge issue for the Pirates this year that it makes even more sense to do so right now — but both Davis and Mercer have looked really good since the calendar has turned over into May. Both came into this game with averages above .300 on the month (Davis was at .333 before going 2-for-4 and Mercer was at .306 before his 1-for-4) and I think a bunch of success is due to both of them cutting their strikeouts way back on the month. Mercer’s career strikeout rate is 17.4% and he whiffed 11 times in 73 plate appearances in April (~15%). In May, he’s got five strikeouts in 43 plate appearances after tonight. Davis, meanwhile, is a career 23.6% strikeout guy, but in May he’s only got seven Ks in his 49 plate appearances after tonight, which is right about 14%. Obviously we’re only looking at a couple of weeks worth of games and I’m not trying to draw any conclusions from these data points. Both players looked really awful in stretches in April, though, and it’s clear that they’ve made some adjustments since those slumps. Having both of them hitting makes the Pirates’ lineup a lot deeper, and it made a big difference tonight.
It seems like a longshot with Wandy Rodriguez pitching tomorrow, but the Pirates are now one win away from their fourth consecutive series victory. Baby steps.