After a full week of the Pirates getting strong starting pitching, shaky relief work in big spots, and absolutely zero offense, the Pirates went out and scored three runs in the first inning and put up a five spot (62.5% of the total runs scored in their first six games) for the game while the bullpen had to go 6 2/3 innings after Wandy Rodriguez left early with a hamstring problem in the third inning. This is exactly why I try not to get worked up over things a week into the season; after a full week of seeing one thing, suddenly we got nine innings of a game filled with something else entirely.
The bullpen was great in this game, but I suppose the place to start is probably with the offense. Besides Andrew McCutchen's homer on Sunday, haven't done much of anything that didn't come against Carlos Marmol in almost a week. Then, in the first inning the Pirates got a Starling Marte single, an Andrew McCutchen double, a Pedro Alvarez walk, and a two-run Travis Snider single. Three hits! A walk! Someone helping Andrew McCutchen shoulder the load! When it seemed like the Pirates were destined to piss that lead away, Starling Marte tripled and McCutchen drove him home on a sacrifice fly. Runs in two different innings! Extra base hits from multiple sources! Clinging to a one run lead in the eighth inning, Garrett Jones hit a solo homer to pad the lead to the 5-3 final. Insurance runs! Dingers!
Objectively, five runs isn't really a ton of runs and there will probably PLENTY of nights during the season where three runs in the first inning followed by two over the next seven will be frustrating. In our little April vacuum, though, this was nice. With another solid night from McCutchen and a couple of big hits from Marte and the Garrett Jones boomstick making an appearance, it almost feels like maybe it's the start of something. Of course, if you're the sort of person that doesn't get worked up over six games (like me), then you also shouldn't get too excited by one decent performance. On the other hand, what do we Pirate fans have to be encouraged about if we just leave the isolated decent performances by the wayside?
As much as I'd like to talk about the offense, though, I think the bigger story tonight is arguably the bullpen. Wandy Rodriguez left in the third inning with a runner on first and one out due to hamstring tightness. He got replaced by Jeanmar Gomez, who struggled to get out of the third and nearly got himself back into trouble in the fourth. As a result, the long relief duties fell to Justin Wilson. Wilson took over in the fifth and zipped through three easy innings, facing the minimum number of hitters thanks to a double play that erased a hit by pitch. I'm happy to see that Wilson is capable of such a strong performance; I've thought for a couple of years now that he'd be better suited to the bullpen than the rotation and early returns this year seem pretty strong. I will also keep the fact that I said last week that having Wilson on the roster should mean that someone Jeanmar Gomez is unnecessary under my hat. Wilson was followed by Mark Melancon, who's been excellent in his short Pirate career, and Jason Grilli. Wilson, Melancon, and Grilli went a combined five innings and faced 15 hitters, striking out five and only putting one guy on base. I know that people think I'm a little crazy for saying that the Pirates could have a pretty decent bullpen this year, but those three are a big part of the reason why I think that. The Pirates have some live arms in the bullpen this year, and tonight it certainly played to their advantage.
Of course with it all said and done, what really happened was that the Pirates got five hits and saw their second most reliable starter leave the game early with a hamstring problem. It feels better than that, but the reason that small sample sizes get ignored is that this kind of thing tends to level out. The Pirates absolutely cannot afford to lose Rodriguez for any real stretch of time and they really need to get more than two hits after the first inning every once in a while. For now, though, I'm happy to start with this and hope for good news on Rodriguez as the week wears on.