When the pressure is on for the Pittsburgh Pirates, things seem to go their way.
At least, that’s how it repeatedly feels 20 games into this season.
The Pirates haven’t lost multiple games in a row since the second and third games of the season against the Cincinnati Reds. Tonight, the Pirates beat those Reds by a score of 4-3 in a game that didn’t feel that close. Their current winning streak was extended to four games. This is their second four game winning streak this season — something they did only twice from 2020-2022, both in the second half last year.
Limit damage. Stay hot. Strike early.
It’s the recipe that is consistently seen from winning teams throughout the history of the ever-changing game of baseball.
With two on and two out in the first inning tonight, Connor Joe was faced with a full count against Luke Weaver, making his first start of the year. Weaver allowed a single to Ke’Bryan Hayes on a hard-hit grounder to lead off the game, followed by a four-pitch walk to Bryan Reynolds. He settled down and was one strike away from escaping the inning.
That’s when Joe put a full count fastball into the center field bullpen. Four pitches later, Jack Suwinski deposited an inside fastball on a 2-1 count well over the Clemente Wall.
Just like that, it was 4-0 Pirates.
Weaver’s performance the rest of the way highlights the battle that Joe won. The Reds right-hander went six innings, striking out eight and walking two. After that first inning, he allowed one walk and one hit in five shutout innings. The Pirates took advantage of their opportunity.
This wasn’t the case for the Reds. The quick lead allowed Roansy Contreras to cruise for 6.2 innings of one run ball — with a few assists along the way from a few key battles.
The first assist came in the top of the sixth inning. Contreras allowed a leadoff single to Jonathan India, who was threatening on the bases. Contreras got TJ Friedl to strikeout swinging as India was stealing second. The throw from Hedges was wild into center field, but an aggressive swing from Friedl and a lean across the plate was enough to knock Hedges to the ground. Some may say that Hedges was thinking fast and acting, and that maybe Friedl didn’t even touch him and he faked falling down, but I’ll let you watch the actual play below and judge for yourself.
For most of the day, Contreras was showing some of his best stuff of the season, with a nasty breaking pitch. He allowed a leadoff single and a walk to start the seventh, giving the Reds their first big scoring threat. A hard grounder by Wil Myers may have done some damage, had it not gone to Hayes. The third baseman made a quick grab between second and third, followed by an off-balanced but accurate throw to second to set up a double play, which was completed at first by a scoop out of the dirt by Carlos Santana.
Double down ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/SzsTXCWQxU
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 21, 2023
Once again, when the tide started to turn the Reds’ way, the Pirates quickly shut it down. Contreras did follow that with a bloop single to center, scoring the first Cincinnati run of the day. Robert Stephenson came on against his former team and closed out the inning with a strikeout on a nice frame by Hedges at the bottom of the zone.
Things weren’t as quick to slow down in the eighth inning. Coming into tonight’s game, Colin Holderman had eight shutout frames in eight appearances, all coming in the eighth inning of Pirates victories. He entered tonight’s game with a 4-1 lead, and was wild, not just in pitching.
Jose Barrero led off with an easy hit to Holderman, who threw wild to first base. The Pirates showed good contingency defense on the play, with Joe backing up the throw and almost having a play at second. His throw went wild, but was backed up by Reynolds in left field, giving Barrero no chance to advance after his slide.
A wild pitch from Holderman moved Barrero to third. He scored on a single from India. A single from Friedl and a double steal set up Spencer Steer for a sacrifice fly. That cut the lead to one, and put the tying run 90-feet away.
The Pirates had Duane Underwood Jr. warming up in the bullpen, but Holderman settled down, with help from Hayes. Jake Fraley hit a hard shot to third, where Hayes was playing in. He reacted quickly, getting the out and preventing the run from scoring. Justice delos Santos broke down the play below.
This play isn't going to make any highlight reels, but it's such a good encapsulation of Hayes's value on defense. He handles this short hop as if it's routine, preventing the runner on third from scoring and preserving the one-run lead. pic.twitter.com/KPItppgTdm
— Justice delos Santos (@justdelossantos) April 21, 2023
Holderman followed that by striking out Tyler Stephenson swinging on an 86 MPH sweeper at the bottom of the zone, preserving the lead.
David Bednar came on in the bottom of the ninth and did his thing, closing out the 4-3 win with a strikeout and two fly outs.
*I wrote in my column today about how Ke’Bryan Hayes has seen a better launch angle this year. He has a tendency to hit the ball into the ground, despite hitting it very hard. In his first three at-bats tonight, Hayes hit three hard grounders. Only one of them went for hits, and fortunately that was the one that set up the three-run homer from Joe. It could have been a different game if Weaver starts with a ground out. Overall, it was an amazing night for Hayes, who contributed to this victory on both sides of the ball.
**Austin Hedges seems like the type of defensive catcher who would make opposing fans furious. Stealing a strike at the bottom of the zone in the seventh for Stephenson. Flopping for Friedl. After years of watching the Pirates lose to Yadier Molina, I love seeing a catcher who is fast enough to find every advantage he can get for his team.
***The pitch recognition from Jack Suwinski seems much better this season. He’s making better swing decisions this year in a way that I saw Rodolfo Castro making better swing decisions at the end of last year. They’re not enough to lead to consistent results just yet, but he’s on the right track. Tonight he went 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout, doing a good job of laying off some tough pitches just out of the zone.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Hayes is so valuable at third. I’m not sure if hayes is the best defensive third baseman of all time or it just feels that way after watching Moran play there for a few years before Hayes arrived. I enjoy watching him play baseball more than almost anybody in my life.
Andy Van slyke and Jason Kendall are my 2 other favorite players to watch along my 35 plus years of being a buccos fan.
LOL the Hayes love is so funny. Dude had his first error in a while tonight _and_ put up a -100 wRC+ for the evening. Ke Mays Hayes has a 64 wRC+ in 88 PAs this year. I’m guessing tonight’s error brings his DEF down to pretty much even with his OFF for a 0 fWAR. Guy is at best a role player on even this team but has soooo many fans wishcasting on him. He’s a loser.
That was the best start of Ro’s young career. He was outstanding!
They’re going to need another backend arm and I don’t think they have anything internally that could pitch the 8th. I think it was Fangraphs that said something along the lines of – Holderman would be a 3rd banana in a good pen.
I checked the other day and If I’m reading it right, Suwinski’s K rate was only 24%, about league average. Considering those first few games when he was striking out at an alarming rate, that’s encouraging. Full disclosure, I scoffed at the Conner Joe trade, wondering why they would trade a young pitching prospect for another journeyman position player. I’ve been really impressed with Joe and his at bats and right now behind Cutch and BRey. he’s probably the guy I want at the plate late in the game when the tying run is in scoring position. I noticed Nick Garcia isn’t even on the Rockies Top 30 prospect list on MLB Pipeline. His ceiling may be a long man out of the pen like Crowe and Dejong.
not sure about Reynolds and “clutch” in the same thought . . . he’s too inconsistent for my taste
Gotta love it! They said on the radio broadcast that the last time that the Bucs started 13-7 was……2002.
that was a few weeks before Operation Shutdown
Operation shutdown was 2001
They went 72-89 that yea… let’s hope they flip that this year and go 89-73 or 90-72
Unless they have more serious injuries, this team should perform better than 2002. I had forgotten several of those guys from 2002. There is more to this team and the depth in AAA and even some in AA. No matter what, this season is gonna be a fun ride!