Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pirates Game 17 & 18 Recap - Pirates 1-5, Rockies 2-1

Although the Pirates were only able to pull out a split with the Rockies today you had to go away feeling pretty good about what went on in the field. These games had totally different feels to them but there were two pretty constants in them. The Pirates got great pitching and they finally were able to rack up some hits and while it didn’t help them in the first game it won them the second game.

The pitching today was just outstanding. First let’s start with James McDonald who pitched the front end of the double header. J-Mac finally got a start where he was able to complete seven innings but even more impressive is that he was able to take a no hitter through 6.1 innings and really dominate for large stretches of the game. He ended up with eight strikeouts but what was even more impressive was his ability to get out of trouble. He did put some base runners on by hitting them and walking them but he was able to get the double play ball and get the clutch strikeout when he needed it. McDonald is never going to be a guy that is going to be ultra efficient but this was a great start for him, unfortunately he wasn’t able to get the win but still good nonetheless.

In the second game it was all Charlie Morton all the time as he was straight deal to the Rockies hitters. Morton went seven innings and scattered six hits and only gave up one run. Really solid work from Morton who got 16 ground ball outs as opposed to only three fly ball outs. He threw 101 pitches and might have went another inning had it not been a rough ending for him giving up a few hits in the seventh.

Overall the pitching was just outstanding. Overall the Pirates gave up only nine hits in two games and were only charged with three runs. When you look at why the Pirates are only two games under .500 and not six or seven you need to go no further than the pitching staff. Everyone from the top starter to the last guy out of the pen has been able to pitch big innings and it’s really fun to watch.

We could probably sit here and talk about pitching all day but today the hitters decided to show up and give the team some much needed runs in the second game and was even to string together a few hits in the first game. Overall in both games the Pirates racked up 20 hits which would have taken maybe three weeks to do at the beginning of the season. The Pirates did strike out 17 times which included 10 times in the night cap but they won that game so I don’t count it.

Today was a great day all things considered for Pedro Alvarez. He hit a pair of home runs, one in each game, and added a double while only striking out twice in eight at bats. I talked about it a few nights ago when I said that it looked like Pedro was having some good approaches at the plate and while he wasn’t getting rewarded for it I thought it would come. Oh, it was there and it was in a big way today. Pedro was responsible for the only run in the first game and then followed up a Garrett Jones two run bomb by hitting the foul pole in right field. In the past Pedro has had trouble hitting the off speed stuff but he is able to hammer that this year. Of his four home runs three of them have been on changeups and the other was a curve. Really nice to see. For those who don’t think he can hit the fastball anymore, well he was able to one hop the wall in left field with a double on a 95 mph fastball in game two. The big day from Pedro raised his triple slash line to .156/.174/.444 so things might start to look up for him.

What was most encouraging for me about Pedro today wasn’t the home runs or the RBI’s or even hitting the ball hard in each at bat. Sure, all of that was great and good to see but far and away what was most encouraging was that he was consistently taking the ball to the opposite field. Hitting the ball where it is pitched is a huge key for Pedro and when he has struggled he is trying to pull the outside pitch and just rolling it over to the right side. In at least half of his at bats today he was going with the pitch and taking it to left field if that is where it was pitched. Really good to see. Why do you ask? Well when you hit the ball the other way you really have to be able to recognize the pitch and wait for it to get deeper in the zone. When you do that and you make contact you have to keep your bat through the zone to take it to left field (for a left handed hitter) and have great balance. Seeing Pedro able to do that makes me feel really good about him going forward and instead of watching his at bats hoping he doesn’t strike out and I watching him anticipating him getting a hit.

The finally thing on Alvarez that I would ask is to not get your hopes up like he is going to all of a sudden figure it out because of two games. He is still going to strike out a good bit and he isn’t going to be a .300 hitter. Pedro is what he is, a power hitter that is going to hit for a low average with the ability to put the ball in the stands. Right now he is having some really good at bats but he is going to have a cold streak too. I don’t know when that is going to happen and when this is going to happen but try not have unrealistic expectations for a guy that has never showed that he could live up to them.

Speaking of streaky hitters you can look no further than the guy who hit in front of Alvarez in the second game as a case of a guy being hot. Garrett Jones picked up three hits in four at bats and went deep to raise his season average to nearly .300. A few weeks ago a lot of people wanted Jones on the bench but all he has done is gone 9-for-23 in the last nine games that includes three home runs and six runs batted in. Jones is going to be a guy that goes on streaks. The lows are bad but the highs are great. You never know when streaks are going to happen so you need to throw him out there but when it is good it goes really good. Nice to see Jones come up big today.

Clint Barmes had another nice day at the plate which makes it two straight days where he has played some good offensive baseball. Barmes ended up going 6-for-11 in the series and it is really amazing how much better the offense is when he is putting pressure on the defense.

Starting tomorrow the Pirates are on the road in Atlanta to go against a really good Braves team. Should be a nice measuring stick.

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