Edison Volquez was pretty good tonight. Actually he gave up only one run in six innings and after the fiasco last night that was Wandy Rodriguez the Pirates needed a strong start from Volquez. Heading into the game he has been pretty awful recently. In his past four starts before tonight Volquez pitched 21.2 innings and gave up eight home runs, 20 runs, 24 hits, and opposing hitters had a .970 OPS. That is not good. I am not going to say that I was as worried about Volquez as I was about Rodriguez but it was starting to get to the point where another bad outing from Volquez and you could legitimately see him not make his next start. Tonight he showed up.
He did have his problems as he walked the pitcher (again) and gave up another home run but for the most part he gave the Pirates a really solid start. For as good as the Pirates offense has been in the month of May (they have been REAL good) you can't expect them to score six runs every single night. The starters need to go deeper into games and they need to give the Pirates offense the opportunity to win the game with only a few runs. Volquez did that and it was huge.
On the flip side the Pirates did a nice job of getting to the National bullpen. This is the first game of a four game set and if you can start in game one by getting the starter out before the sixth inning then you are giving yourself a chance to be successful. The Pirates didn't do a ton against starter Blake Treinen but they were patient and they got some clutch hits.
Treinen threw 102 pitches in 5.2 innings and while he only gave up four hits and two runs he walked five Pirates hitters and those walks led to runs. Exactly what needs to happen. The offense might not be beating the ball all over the field but when you get free passes you make the opposing pitcher pay. This helped the Pirates score their first run. With two outs in the third inning Volquez drew a walk and then moved to second on a Josh Harrison single. Neil Walked followed by walking to load the bases before Andrew McCutchen got hit by the first pitch of his at bat to plate a run. Again, no flashy but the Pirates were patient and made Washington pay. That is good offense.
I talked about him last night, but Harrison has been a man on fire for the Pirates. Outside of McCutchen he might be the best player for the Pirates in the month. He was involved in probably the two biggest plays of the night and was a huge factor overall. With the score tied at one in the fifth inning Harrison started off with a single and then moved to second on a warning track flyout by Walker. You don't see guys tag from first too often but Harrison did an unreal job of reading the outfielder and tagging and beating the throw easily to second. McCutchen then came up and singled up the middle and Harrison scored easily. Move up 90 feet was the difference in scoring a run. He then made a diving catch in right center field the next half inning on the leadoff hitter. It was only a one run game and if he doesn't get to that ball it's either a double or triple. It was much like the catch he made against the Yankees the other day, but better. It got him a near standing o from the Pirates faithful at PNC Park and it probably saved the game from being tied. He also chipped in a run scoring single to give the Pirates an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Ho hum.
I still don't think Harrison is overly good but right now he can't do any wrong. With how Jose Tabata and Travis Snider have been playing I don't think there is any reason that Harrison shouldn't be out in right field almost every day. At this point it is a no-brainer.
A guy who is really struggling is Pedro Alvarez. I mean his stats are bad but he has been putting some good swings on the ball but when there are runners on base he has just been awful. This is a pretty telling stat from Dave Manel:
Update: Pedro Alvarez: 193 plate appearances / 162 baserunners / 17 baserunners scored.
— David Manel (@DavidManel) May 23, 2014
This is not what you want from your fourth hitter. Actually it doesn't really matter what position he is hitting in but with as much as McCutchen, Walker, and most recently Harrison has got on base this year you need to have someone drive them in sometimes. Pedro hasn't been driving them in at all. Sure, he has cut down his strikeout rate a ton (21.2%) and has nearly a 100 point difference from his batting average to his on base percentage (career 74 point difference) but his slugging percentage is sitting at only .373. I don't think it will be that low all season as I think some of these more balls he is putting in play will go for hits but it can be brutal to watch him with runners on base.
The rest of the game was pretty normal. I think I have gotten to the point where I expect the Pirates to play some ridiculous games and for the most part I am proved right. Well, tonight was a case of the team getting a good effort from their starter and scoring some runs in different ways to win a game. While it is fun to see weird stuff happen wins like tonight are pretty fun too.