Knowing that the Pirates were facing down some storm clouds tonight, I was worried that the Indianapolis/Durham game would suffer the same fate when I left lab in the middle of a thunderstorm around 6 PM. By the time I made it out to Durham, though, the rain had mostly subsided and the tarp was off and even though more rain was being called for, we never really saw it.
That was a good thing, too, since Justin Wilson was on the mound for Indianapolis after the Indians’ shuffled their rotation this afternoon to move the struggling Sean Gallagher to the bullpen. To this point, Wilson’s been a little better than Rudy Owens in 2011 and he’s the one guy that I think tends to get underrated a bit when it comes to the Pirates’ pitching prospects. Accordingly, I was pretty interested to see him pitch in person tonight.
Like Owens, he doesn’t have an overwhelming fastball. I think he may have hit 93 on DBAP’s gun tonight, but his fastball mostly sat between 88 and 92. Unlike Owens, he mixed things up quite a bit with what I assume were two-seamers, curves, and sliders. It was clear that he could reach back and hit 91 or 92 whenever he needed to, but he doesn’t just hammer away with the fastball the way Owens did at some points on Tuesday. At first, Wilson didn’t seem that impressive. Desmond Jennings opened the game up with a line out, Justin Ruggiano drew a walk (something Wilson struggles with), then Wilson escaped trouble when Matt Hague made a nice snag on a Brandon Guyer line drive that went from being a single to a double play. He kept walking hitters and he didn’t have any strikeouts until the last out of the fourth inning, but no one made solid contact after the first. He managed to carry a no-hitter into the seventh inning, losing it when JJ Furmaniak snuck a hit up the middle past Pedro Ciriaco (at second tonight) with one out. All told he walked five and struck out three, but the Bulls only hit two balls to the oufield against him and one of those two was a pop-out. They just couldn’t put solid wood on the ball at any point against Wilson.
With Wilson cruising, the Indianapolis offense finally showed some signs of life. John Bowker had three hits, including two doubles that were absolutely smoked into the right-center and left-center gaps. Chase D’Arnaud and Josh Harrison both squared up a couple of balls well for solid singles. The real star of the game at the plate, though, was Matt Hague. In the fourth inning, he scorched a line drive to center that Guyer tried and failed to make a spectacular catch on, which left Hague standing at third with a triple. In the eighth, he crushed an RJ Swindle pitch well over the Blue Monster in left for a three-run homer that gave Indy a seemingly insurmountable nine-run lead. He also made some pretty slick plays at first base with his glove. Watching him maul left-handed pitching (Durham started Alex Torres, a lefty that’s a good prospect with big strikeout numbers but some serious control problems) and play good defense tonight made it seem to me like he could exist on a big league roster in a Steve Pearce-type role on the small end of a platoon, though obviously those guys are of limited value.
After Wilson exited the game, though, things got awful for Indianapolis on the other side of the ball. Justin Thomas came in to pitch the eighth and he threw the Bulls batting practice. He worked 2/3rds of an inning and gave up three doubles, a single, and two scorched flyouts. Dusty Brown was charged with two passed balls while Thomas was on the mound, but I thought at least one of them could’ve been scored a wild pitch. Thomas left the game with a runner on first and a 9-3 score. Blaine Boyer came in and threw two wild pitches before getting a strikeout to end the eighth and seemingly put Durham’s threat to bed for the night.
Except that it wasn’t over. After Boyer struck Furmaniak out to open up the ninth, he gave up a single, a double, and a mammoth home run to Desmond Jennings. At that point, Tim Wood frantically started warming up, there was a loooong mound conference, and Boyer walked Ruggiano to actually bring the tying run into the on deck circle. Indianapolis was winning 9-0 at 10:00. By 10:40, Durham had the tying run on deck. Wood came in at that point and allowed a 399-foot flyout that Alex Presley tracked down at the wall. Off the bat, I was certain it was a two-run homer. Then, he got Felipe Lopez to fly out to Bowker in left and end Durham’s near-miraculous comeback that left me feeling awfully frazzled for a game that I didn’t really care much about who won once I got to the park.
Near-bullpen-meltdowns aside, it was nice to see that the Pirates have some guys at Triple-A capable of getting hits. I thought Wilson was pretty impressive, too. I wasn’t exactly blown away by him, which you might expect after 6 1/3 no-hit innings, but he was still very good. He had some control trouble and he didn’t exactly rack up the strikeouts, but Durham was so frustrated by him that Ruggiano actually tried to lead off the sixth with a bunt. I don’t know if he had his best stuff tonight, but he certainly didn’t have his best command and he still had a great start.