When the weird, instant downpour hit PNC Park after Delwyn Young doubled in two runs in the second inning to put the Pirates ahead 4-3, I immediately thought two things. The first was, “Well, Snell didn’t look great tonight, it might not hurt to get him out early.” That was quickly followed by, “Crap, that means we have to get seven innings out of the bullpen.” The Rockies’ bullpen is also pretty scary to watch, but seven innings is a pretty tall task.
The dynamic in the bullpen is actually kind of weird right now. With Sean Burnett holding the Rockies to one run over three innings and coming out of the game with a 5-4 lead thanks to a Nate McLouth homer (on his bobblehead night), Evan Meek came in and I felt pretty good about him on the mound. Then Jesse Chavez came in and I wasn’t worried at all (Chavez’s inning was awesome, for the record). Then John Grabow, one of the two guys that I had any confidence at all in before the season started, came in and I worried a bit. Then Matt Capps came in and I was pretty terrified, even with a three-run lead.
Actually, I understand the desire to get Capps back out on the mound tonight. They said on the broadcast that he was at the ballpark and noon today and they showed some film of him working with Joe Kerrigan with his left eye covered. Steve Blass guessed that was because his left shoulder has been flying open early, leaving his right arm lagging behind the body and costing Capps some of his invaluable control. I’m sure that’s a big part of the problem, but I’ll add that the video stills (from 2007 and 2009) Blass was looking also made it look to me like Capps’ front side flying open early was giving hitters a longer look at the ball coming out of Capps’ hand, which is something that a pure fastball guy like Capps simply cannot afford. Whatever the case, Kerrigan’s exercise seemed ingenuous to me. With his left eye covered, Capps has to bring his right side around in sync with the left side because if he doesn’t, he can’t see. Blass and Greg Brown had a good laugh about Capps throwing with one eye during the game and Mitch Williams (who I cannot stand) was acting like it was the craziest and stupidest thing he’d ever seen on the postgame wrap on the MLB Network, but really, these are the sorts of things that Joe Kerrigan does that I don’t remember seeing any pitching coach do with the Pirates’ staff before.
Did it make a difference tonight? That’s hard to say. Capps walked the first batter and the next two both grounded sharply to Jack Wilson for a DP and a 6-3 ground out to end the game. The Rockies certainly weren’t crushing the ball like they were on Friday. My gut feeling is that if Kerrigan didn’t think Capps had made improvements during their afternoon bullpen session, he wouldn’t have let Russell use him in the game.
One other thing I wanted to mention is Andy LaRoche’s base running. Last night, I took him to task for not paying attention to where the throw from the outfield was headed and got caught trying to cruise into second, costing the Pirates’ a scoring opportunity. Tonight, he made a great play to get from first to third on Jason Jaramillo’s single to left, and that allowed him to score on Jack Wilson’s sac fly in the next at-bat. That run was the last run the Pirates would score, and given the load placed on the bullpen tonight, the seventh run (and three-run lead) was really significant at this point. For everything that was said about LaRoche before this season started, it really seems to me like he’s making a concerted effort to work on things he’s not good at. Since April 16th, the first night of the year he recorded a hit, he’s hitting .297/.373/.425 (that’s by my count since B-Ref won’t update his game log until the morning). Before the season, I think every one of use would’ve agreed that that sort of line from LaRoche would make us happy. Let’s hope he keeps it up.