PITTSBURGH — The Pirates offense is showing some signs of breaking out. After spending most of June in a funk, they’ve now scored 21 runs in the last four games after an 8-6 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night.
The Pirates eight-run outburst — their most since June 4 — was fueled by a big second inning that was a vintage performance from this offense.
Matt Joyce hit an opposite-field double, Jordy Mercer hit an opposite-field singe and took an extra base on a poor throw by Yasiel Puig. Sean Rodriguez drove in two with his single and ended up in scoring position when he took an extra base. John Jaso singled, Starling Marte doubled, and the Pirates and build a 4-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
“Man, we had a great approach,” Joyce said. “When you’re able to hit the ball to the opposite field gap when [they] know guys are trying to do that’s not an easy thing to do, but that’s the right approach: staying to the big part of the field and taking what the pitcher gives you.”
“We hit the ball hard where it’s pitched,” Hurdle agreed. “It sounds simple, it’s hard to do. But when you do it, it just looks so good, so pretty.”
It probably helped that the Pirates were facing spot starter Nick Tepesch, who hadn’t pitched an MLB game since 2014, but Mercer said he had a unique arsenal that forced the Pirates into a simpler approach.
“He was a mixed guy and was throwing all of his pitches,” Mercer said. “One thing with a guy like that is you can’t try to do too much. If he gives you something to hit, you just have to go with it wherever it is. Joyce started it off with a good at-bat and we just kept it rolling after that. That was a fun inning.”
Joyce added an RBI double in the fifth and a solo home run to lead off the seventh to go 3-for-4 while filling in for Gregory Polanco, who did not play with an undisclosed leg injury. Joyce said the early approach paying off allowed him to take advantage later on.
“[If you get hits early], later in the game, they have to change their plan where now they’re going to have to come in and maybe you can look for something to drive,” he said.
With Polanco’s injury and two consecutive minor issues for left-fielder Starling Marte, Joyce has seen some additional playing time recently, and he’s been able to prove his worth in a big way, hitting .333/.500/.708 for a 1.208 OPS in his last 10 games.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” Hurdle said. “The playing time, it’s added to it, but he’s been able to prove his value since we opened this thing up. So many big hits off the bench early. A spot start here and there and now, with the injuries that we’re trying to navigate through with the dings and dents on a couple of our outfielders in Marte and Polanco, he’s just gone out there and been professional.”
Joyce was just glad to be able to help his team earn a victory and to bring a lighter mood to the clubhouse, which not only snapped a three-game losing streak, but celebrated manager Clint Hurdle’s 1000th career victory.
“It’s nice to get back on track,” Joyce said. “It’s nice to get a win. You guys know how our month has gone. It was cool to see some guys smiling out there and having fun.”
TAILLON HIT AROUND
Jameson Taillon started his fourth game of the season and had a rough go of it, being pulled before he recorded an out in the top of the fifth. He gave up four runs on eight hits and only pitched one clean inning. Taillon said he thought he improved over his last start, but is obviously still working through things.
“I’m still learning, I guess,” he said. “It’s a never-ending process. I thought tonight I made some good pitches and some bad pitches and got punished for the bad ones. My last start in Chicago, a lot of those pitches probably get hit no matter where I am. Tonight, I thought I made some decent pitches down in the zone that I might get away with in Triple-A but sequencing for me — behind in the count and having to throw a fastball for a strike — they hit them up here. I’ll just keep learning and keep getting better.”
Hurdle thought there wasn’t as much “tilt” on Taillon’s two-seamer and when he got behind in counts, the Dodgers were sitting on it. That’s a situation where Taillon would usually use his curveball to get easy strikes with batters looking for heat, but he had a tough time locating with the pitch.
“I didn’t have a good feel for it,” he said. “When I’m good with it, I can throw it for an easy, 78 mph strike early in the count and then I can put a guy away with it at 81-82 late in the count, a little sharper, maybe start it as a strike and end it in the zone. It can be two different pitches. On a night like tonight, I was just trying to get some feel for it out front and it wasn’t really there.”
With Taillon going only four innings, Hurdle used five relievers to span the gap, including an impressive 1.2-inning performance from Neftali Feliz. But left uncalled on was newly minted reliever Juan Nicasio. Hurdle suggested he’s looking for a lower-leverage situation to ease him into a relief role.
“We don’t want to rush it,” Hurdle said. “Hoping for a situation maybe long. We talked about it with a three-run lead there. … He remained available to us.”
Taillon hasn’t even been in the big leagues two weeks, but with the Pirates’ litany of recent roster moves, he’s watched now watched two teammates make their debuts with Adam Frazier going 1 for 2 Friday night. There’s another on the horizon, with Chad Kuhl in town, presumably to start Sunday’s game. I asked him if he used his pseudo-veteran status to impart any wisdom on his fellow former farmhands.
“You always hear that the game is the same, but it really is pretty similar,” Taillon said. “You take care of your business, get ahead and stay ahead, keep doing your thing, and he’ll be fine. [Kuhl is] really talented. Frazier just pits the barrel on the ball and slaps it around. He’s a pest. I’d hate to play against him. Just keep doing your thing and doing what got you here.”
• The team had no update on Gregory Polanco after the game, bringing his status for Saturday into question.
• Marte returned to the starting lineup and went 2 for 5 with an RBI double, but didn’t look entirely comfortable running the bases, especially in the latter part of the game.
• Jung Ho Kang hit a solo home run to left in the third, and now leads the team with 11, one more than Polanco.
• Jeff Locke will face Kenta Maeda Saturday at 7:15. That game will be on FOX.