For almost the entire night, the Pirates had to play catch up in this game against the Braves. For most of the game, they did just that. BJ Upton lead the game off with a home run, the Pirates tied it on a sac fly. After the Pirates took a 2-1 lead on a long Russell Martin home run, the Braves took a 3-2 lead on a Chris Johnson homer. The Pirates tied the game back up on a moster Pedro Alvarez home run that hit most of the way up the batter's eye in center, only to fall behind again immediately when Justin Upton hit the rotunda with a solo homer of his own. The Pirates tied the game again on a Garrett Jones double, but then gave the Braves their final lead of the game when Evan Gattis hit the Braves' fourth home run of the night.
A few salient points: it is difficult to win baseball games when you walk eight hitters and give up four home runs. Frankly, when you walk eight hitters and give up four homers, only allowing six runs is probably the best possible result. This springboards to the next point, which is that Jeff Locke was really bad tonight. In 4 2/3 innings, he walked four and gave up six hits. Half of those hits left the ballpark. Charlie Morton made a rehab start tonight and Francisco Liriano's second rehab start will be soon. These guys need to hurry up. The final point is this: Jared Hughes isn't fooling anyone this year. Obviously Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli can't pitch 162 innings this year apiece, which means that the Pirates need other relievers to pitch high leverage innings. They have plenty of arms that can be given chances in this role: Bryan Morris, Vic Black, and Duke Welker all come immediately to mind. Heck, even Vin Mazzaro hit 95 on the gun in his inning of relief tonight. The point is the same one that I made when Morris was demoted in favor of keeping Jeanmar Gomez on the roster: last year, the Pirates went through this terrible self-defeating cycle where after the Brad Lincoln trade they refused to use young pitchers like Justin Wilson or Bryan Morris in Pittsburgh because they were young pitchers who had never been used in big league situations. Instead, they leaned on the likes of Chad Qualls and things went terribly.
I understand that the bullpen situation is going to be fluid for as long as the rotation is in shambles; when Jeff Locke, Jonathan Sanchez, and Bad James McDonald are in your rotation, you need Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro and anyone capable of throwing three innings out of necessity. But the Pirates really shouldn't be afraid of giving guys like Morris (in particular) and Black and Welker (after they get some more Triple-A innings under their belts) a chance to pitch in some high leverage MLB situations, particularly if Jared Hughes keeps struggling. No one wants to see Chad Qualls or Hisanori Takahashi again, and there's no reason the Pirates should need guys like that this year.
Finally: Pedro Alvarez has taken some good swings this week, so it was awesome to see him finally connect. I'm a little more concerned about Russell Martin given his age and the way his batting average has declined lately, but since Mike McKenry's huge game on Sunday Martin has four hits and two extra base hits in three games. In his first ten, he only had one single and one double. Hopefully he's starting to come out of his slump, too. Starling Marte did some course correction in the opposite direction tonight, striking out five times. Strikeouts are going to be a problem for him at times this year and the Braves' pitching staff is excellent, so I won't be surprised if he has a tough weekend. This is going to happen to him from time to time. What's more important will be how he adjusts after a rough night like this and how long it takes.
I know that this is only one game of a four-game set, but given the remaining pitching matchups, the Pirates are in severe danger of being swept in this series by virtue of not beating Teheran. Let's see how they respond.