Through thirteen games this year, the Pirates have now thrown four shutouts. All four have come in the team’s last seven games. Certainly I expected the pitching to improve this year, but I didn’t think there’d be any stretches like this, let alone one so early in the season. Tonight, Ross Ohlendorf turned the same trick that Paul Maholm and Ian Snell did against the Braves by tossing seven shutout innings and leaving the last two to the bullpen, with Tyler Yates and Jesse Chavez closing the door.
It was interesting to watch Ohlendorf work tonight, because as a huge guy that we know can ramp his fastball up to the mid and upper-90s, that’s just not the way he approaches the game at all as a starter. Tonight he mixed his fastball and sinker together nicely to get 10 groundouts in seven innings, and he pulled the string on a few nice changeups that I think played a big role in his five strikeouts. He’s an interesting pitcher to try and figure out from the PitchFX; the algorithims can’t distinguish his fastball from his sinker at all and that makes it hard to compare one outing to another (at least for someone like me who’s not that into statistics). Of course, I imagine this is where a good deal of his success this year is coming from; hitters are having a hard time telling the difference between the fastball and sinker, too. I was really impressed with his changeup tonight, it looked to me like he was picking his spots with it really well as a change of pace pitch to compliment the fastball/sinker mix that makes up most of his pitches. The Marlins really seemed like they had no idea what pitch was coming, and that’s pretty well reflected in the two hits he gave up in his seven innings.
Of course, it’s only fair that I mention that I was completely underwhelmed by the Marlins. They looked awful at the plate, they looked awful in the field, and it seems like they either don’t teach their pitcher’s how to hold runners, or their pitcher and catcher communicate with two tin cans and a string. Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth are going to steal bases this year, but how often is Jack Wilson going to steal third? And how in the world did Logan Kensing let Adam LaRoche get 2/3rds of the way to second base before he even started his delivery? Maybe this was one bad game for them, but they looked so fundamentally poor tonight that I have a hard time imagining how they’re going to stay out in front of the NL East for long. The Nationals must be really, really awful.
I hope that at some point, Andy LaRoche playing well is going to become such a regular thing that I stop noting it on a nightly basis. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. He had another hit tonight and he also did a nice job going with a breaking pitch from Miller and sharply lining it the other way, though it was hit right at the right fielder for an out. He also turned in two really nice plays in the field, including a gem of a diving double-play, and he showed off a really good throwing arm from third base. It seems like he gets better and more confident every night. I hope this trend will continue.
I also want to quickly note that each of the three shutout wins in the last four games have come in pretty similar fashion. Good starting pitching complimented with a slim early lead that’s broken apart by big hits late in the game. Nate McLouth got the big hit again tonight with a monstrous three-run home run to right-center field. I think this is worth mentioning, because I feel like the Pirates lose 50 games a year in this exact fashion; by hanging close early but getting out-sprinted to the finish. It’s just nice to win a few games like this, however long it lasts.