PITTSBURGH — September call-ups can happen at any time of the month, but traditionally, with a team in a playoff chase, the team makes its moves shortly after the first of the month and the end of the minor-league season. Those players that find their way to the majors do so, and those that do not, go home.
But the Pirates, who have been plagued by injures for the month of September, have continued to add pieces. When Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz were shut down for the season, catcher Jacob Stallings was added to the 40-man roster to provide extra depth.
With pitchers Gerrit Cole, Neftali Feliz and A.J. Schugel all nursing arm injuries and rookies Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon approaching innings limits, the Pirates decided that extra pitching depth was required, so Phil Coke, Wade LeBlanc and Zach Phillips were brought in.
Typically, those players perform only in case of emergency or if a game gets out of hand. Well, the emergency came to light at PNC Park Friday night as manager Clint Hurdle used all three of his recently added pitchers and Stallings was the hero with a walk-off single as the last bat off the bench.
“That’s your snapshot of a September expanded roster game,” Hurdle said. “It was just a quality at-bat from Jacob. He hasn’t seen the field since he’s been here. To go up in that situation and work the count, foul a couple balls off and then put that swing on the ball in those circumstance, I’m very proud of him.”
It wasn’t even clear that Stallings would get an opportunity until Sean Rodriguez — who had tied the game in the ninth — struck out, leaving things up to Stallings.
“I kind of did the math in my head,” Stallings said. “Bases loaded, two outs was the only way I was going to come up that inning. [Bench coach Dave Jauss] came up and told me to be ready. I went down and hit on the tee before that inning. I knew I was the last guy, so I figured just in case.”
Stallings is the sixth catcher the Pirates have used this season, so he was definitely an unlikely hero. After the game, his teammates jumped on him and dumped a cooler over his head during his post-game interview. All for a guy who thought his season would already be over.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “The biggest disappointment from the first time I was up was that I wasn’t able to help them win a game. This time, I helped them win. Obviously, it’s a big win for us trying to make the playoffs.”
The pitching held up their end of the deal, as well, with Coke, LeBlanc and Phillips as three cogs of an eight-man effort that held the Nationals to two runs over six innings.
“LeBlanc has really stepped up,” Hurdle said. “I think that’s his fifth appearance. For Phillips to come in with the bases loaded and two outs and here — go get Harper. He was able to. Coke just got here this afternoon. He doesn’t even know names yet. He might have known the umpires names more than the guys he’s playing with. He came in and made pitches. He got the big ground ball double play. They’ve definitely played a part.”
It wasn’t clear to any of them how or how much they would be used.
“You can’t have any expectations,” LeBlanc said. “You just have to get ready to throw the ball when they give it you. I’ve still got no expectations. Every time the phone rings, I’m getting going mentally. If it’s somebody else, it’s somebody else. If it’s me, I’m ready to roll. … They counted on a lot of guys tonight. Everybody came through. That’s what team wins can do for people.”
TAILLON’S TWIN OUTING
For the second straight start, Jameson Taillon pitched his way through a big inning on the way to a five-inning, three-run outing. This time, it was a three-run second that saw four straight Nationals hits — three of them for extra bases.
“All it was in that second inning was the game got quick on me for three or four hitters,” Taillon said. “Not crazy-bad pitches. A couple pieces of good hitting. That’s a good lineup with a bunch of professional hitters. I got strike one on some guys and they just hit some pitches.”
Having just gone through it in his last start gave Taillon the confidence to push through the adversity, he said:
“I did it five days ago. I gave up three runs early in the game, got back on track and got us through five. As a starting pitcher, you love to put up zeros, but at the end of the day, your job is to just get hit with adversity, keep going, give the team some zeros and give them a chance.”
Hurdle was also impressed with his resiliency, and said Taillon was removed due to pitch count, not ineffectiveness.
“I had some concerns after the third inning with 55 pitches in the second and third innings this time of the year,” Hurdle said. “That’s just a lot for a young man to be carrying. It’s a big load. He responded back with a nine-pitch inning and a 10-pitch inning. … Very resilient outing.”
The Pirates will start Tyler Glasnow on Sunday instead of originally scheduled starter Steven Brault. Hurdle and Glasnow were not available to comment on the decision.