MIAMI — On paper, the Pirates had a good plan tonight. They loaded their lineup with guys who have fared well against left-handers, while going up against a lefty starter. The infield had several guys who also doubled as good defensive options at their position, which made sense with Charlie Morton on the mound. And Morton was going up against a Marlins lineup that had plenty of left-handers, but he had done a better job in that regard over his last few outings.
The plan just didn’t work out.
The lineup had some early success against Brad Hand, scoring a run in the first after a pair of back-to-back hits from Andrew McCutchen and Aramis Ramirez. From there, Hand shut the Pirates down. They had a lot of hard-hit balls for outs, but ultimately the offense couldn’t get to the lefty until the top of the ninth inning. That’s when they led off the frame with back-to-back hits, ending the career longest outing for Hand. However, the offense was unable to do much damage off A.J. Ramos, and Miami shut the Pirates down 5-2.
Charlie Morton looked great early in the game. He started with three shutout innings, then gave up a run each in the fourth and fifth, before seeing things fall apart in the sixth inning. The last time I saw Morton live was on August 9th when he struggled against the Dodgers and their lefty-heavy lineup that night. After the game, Morton told me that lefties were swinging a lot against him, and that he was going to look into the cause of that.
I asked Morton about that again tonight, and he said that the location of his pitches was the issue, and that lefties were getting comfortable out over the plate against him. As a result, he focused on establishing the ball on the inside worked for him.
“I think that’s the key against the lefties, is just making sure I’m working in and up, so they can’t just hang out over the plate and look for sinkers out over the plate all the time,” Morton said tonight after the game.
Morton clearly executed this plan in the early frames. He was pounding the inside corner against left-handers, pushing the Miami hitters back off the plate and getting good results. His goal was to push guys off the plate, but throw the sinker in a way that it would come back over the corner for a strike. This led to a few pitches where left-handers backed away from a called strike.
While Morton’s sinker was working, it was the curveball that led to trouble in the later frame. The pitch looked good early, but started getting hit hard in the later innings.
“My curveball just wasn’t really locating very well,” Morton said. “It felt like the ball was just popping out a little bit. I felt the movement was alright. The location was just middle-middle.”
This led to two big doubles off the curve. Another double came off his sinker when Martin Prado displayed a good piece of hitting, going way inside to lead off the scoring in the sixth inning. The Pirates called on Jared Hughes, who gave up another run on a double to Christian Yelich, who crushed a sinker that was mostly flat. Prior to the game, Clint Hurdle talked about how the recent struggles from Hughes were due to his lack of success against lefties recently.
“It’s been better against right-handers than left-handers right now,” Hurdle said. “He has gone through some sequences where I think the appearances might have taken a little sink out of the ball. He was red lining [with the number of appearances].”
The Pirates didn’t allow any runs past the sixth, including a scoreless seventh inning from Hughes where he struggled against the two left-handers he faced, only to get out of the jam with no runs allowed.
The Pirates had a good plan on paper heading into this game. The Marlins also had a plan to load up the lineup with left-handers, and that paid off in a big way against two sinkerball pitchers who have struggled against left-handers at times.
**Francisco Cervelli had two scares tonight. The first one came when a foul ball went off his right ankle, leading to a delay while the trainers checked on him. The second instance came in the ninth inning when he rounded second base, saw Aramis Ramirez was held up at third, and turned and slid hard into the bag, jamming his left foot. Hurdle said that Cervelli checked out fine after the game, so it appears the Pirates were fortunate in both cases.
**Clint Hurdle said that Aramis Ramirez isn’t ready for games at first base yet, due to a lack of opportunities to get work in at the position.
“We’ve had some challenges,” Hurdle said of getting Ramirez work. “We want to get a really good work day in with him, and the days he hasn’t played have been travel days or days we haven’t been on the field based on our schedule. So we’ve still got some work to do. Getting closer, but we’ve still got some work to do.”
**Michael Morse had some hard hit balls tonight against his former team, including one that fell in for a hit. Hurdle talked before the game about what they liked about Morse, noting that they wanted a compliment at first base on the right side, and a guy who could be a good pinch hitter. Hurdle also mentioned that he got a very good recommendation from San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy about the makeup and character of Morse. Ultimately, the Pirates will hope that Morse plays better for them than he did with Miami.
“We liked the things the Marlins liked when they went out and brought him in,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes things don’t work for the reasons they don’t work.”
**We’ve written a lot recently about what has been working for Gregory Polanco. Hurdle reiterated that a big change was that Polanco is now showing better mechanics, allowing him to see the ball deeper in the zone. This has seen his swings and misses and rolled over ground balls replaced with a lot more line drives. Hurdle even said that Polanco was a “ground ball machine” when he first came up.
“I do think the mechanics in his case have helped and played a definite role,” Hurdle said. “He’s letting balls travel. He’s seeing balls better. When he’s firing, he’s connecting. He’s making firm contact. Before I just felt that the body placement, the balance, the swing path was disconnected.”