PITTSBURGH – The Pirates returned to their core approach — putting runners on base and getting extra-base hits — en route to an 8-7 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this afternoon at PNC Park. The win was their second in the last eight games, and snapped a four-game losing streak.
Each Pirates position player reached base at least once. Starling Marte and Jung-ho Kang led the way, going a combined 4-for-7 with three extra base hits, a single, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch. Kang homered into the visiting bullpen in the second inning, and in the seventh inning, both Gregory Polanco and pinch hitter Matt Joyce hit home runs to help the Pirates push their lead to 8-3.
Jeff Locke pitched well following his career-best start in Miami earlier this week, going seven innings and surrendering three runs while throwing only 82 pitches. While Locke only managed two strikeouts, he did not issue a walk. It marks the first time in his career in which he has done that in consecutive starts.
“I think we just moved the ball around well today,” said Locke, noting that his efficiency has been good recently as well. “We’re not doing things a whole lot different, but now it’s a 1-2 pitch instead of a 2-1 pitch.”
Locke worked exclusively with his fastball and changeup today, throwing a lone breaking ball to Mike Trout. His approach focused on playing to the aggressiveness of the Angels’ lineup, attacking both sides of the plate and hoping for good luck on balls in play.
Tony Watson had another difficult outing, allowing four earned runs in the eighth inning to put the Angels back in the game. Neftali Feliz came on in relief of Watson but struggled to put out the fire, allowing an RBI double to Carlos Perez before getting pinch hitter Jefry Marte to fly out to left field to end the inning.
Mark Melancon came on in the ninth inning to pitch a clean inning and earn his 17th save, getting two ground ball outs around a liner to Josh Harrison.
JOYCE KEEPS HITTING
Matt Joyce’s seventh inning home run, which landed in the center field shrubbery, was his fourth as a pinch hitter this season, and sixth overall. Joyce is now hitting .333/.465/.681, with more walks (16) than strikeouts (15) in 86 plate appearances.
His home run this afternoon came off a 1-2 fastball from Angels’ lefty specialist Greg Mahle, who mixes in a sidearm delivery to confuse hitters.
“You’re just trying to stay with him, and see if he’s going to drop down or not,” Joyce said about his approach to the at-bat. “I’m looking for something up and out over the plate. I felt like I saw the sliders pretty well, and he made a mistake with two strikes.”
Joyce credits his preparation for his success this season, including studying opposing pitchers and hitting against the pitching machine during games. For Joyce, the success he’s having is a continuation of a process that began with work during the off-season, both before and during the Dominican Winter League.
“A guy goes down to play winter ball these days, I’m definitely going to take two looks at him,” Hurdle said after the game when asked whether the team was scouting Joyce in the Dominican over the off-season. The Pirates were impressed with his commitment to getting his game back on track, both in advance of league play and during the winter season.
When asked about Joyce’s success as a pinch hitter this season, Hurdle mentioned Rusty Staub — known during his time in Montreal as “Le Grand Orange” — who had some strong seasons at the end of his career working primarily as a replacement hitter. Hurdle and Staub were both with the New York Mets in 1983 when Staub hit .296/.372/.481 (153 OPS+) in 94 plate appearances as a pinch hitter.
Joyce knows that it will be difficult to crack the starting lineup in what should continue to be a very high-performing Pirates outfield this season, but he’s making the most of what opportunities he does get. Through only two months, he is fast approaching franchise records for HR (7 by Craig Wilson) and RBI (16 by Willie Stargell) by a pinch hitter in a single season.
- Starling Marte was on base four times today to push his season line to .308/.387/.559 (137 wRC+). He and Gregory Polanco (152 wRC+) are both making strong cases to appear in the All-Star game next month. Polanco hit his ninth homer of the year tonight.
- Jung-ho Kang’s eighth home run pushed his slugging percentage to .662 and his ISO (isolated power) to an absurd .390, which only David Ortiz (.401) can beat among players with at least 80 plate appearances.