A sunny afternoon in Chicago’s Wrigley Field on a Sunday is about as Summer as Summer gets. The Pirates set out to salvage one game from the three-game set and the plan took center stage.
See, questioning Derek Shelton’s moves or lineups always brings a response pointing to the plan. Either big picture or plans for individual players but always the plan. Rigidly.
The plan today called for Reynolds and Bell to sit, creating a Sunday lineup to trump all Sunday lineups. As is course when questioning Shelton’s decision Kevin Newman looked to make the choices look heady by hitting a homerun in the first as the Bucs jumped out in front 1-0 and the Pirates in general really got to Lester. Driving his pitch count up early and getting hits and walks to put themselves in position to score. Alas they could not add on, but no worry, Steven Brault was tossing darts. He breezed through 3 innings with 35 pitches and simply attached the zone. Brilliant outing is not overstating his effectiveness.
Then the plan stepped in again.
See the plan was three innings for Brault and while there was no way the Pirates planned for him to handle those innings in only 35 pitches he was still pulled for Chad Kuhl. We all knew this was coming, but it sure did seem like the plan was more important than the outcome. Innings are arbitrary figures, pitch counts are where you get rigid, at least that’s what recent tradition would tell you.
Regardless Chad Kuhl came in and continued the dominance, pitching a scoreless inning. Meanwhile John Lester settled down, retiring 10 straight Pirates at one point, somehow recovering from his early pitch count woes to complete 6 innings of 1-run ball.
Early in the next inning Kuhl seemed to look at his hand, it wasn’t exaggerated or prolonged, but the trainer and manager jumped from the dugout steps like they were looking for it. He would stay in the game but not for long, giving up a run and again calling on the trainers to look at his finger, all the markings of a blister or fingernail but still the game that was well pitched was in jeopardy.
The Pirates bullpen starting with Hartlieb, then moving on to Turley, Neverauskus and Rodriguez kept the Cubs in check through the 8th. Steady work from four guys who all haven’t had that word in their scouting reports thus far, but it matters in a game like this.
In the ninth Philip Evans worked a walk, and Shelton replaced him at first with Jarrod Dyson. I assume the plan afforded for this move. Unfortunately, the plan then called for a bunt with one of the league’s best base stealers at first. In a weird twist he then pinch-hit Bryan Reynolds for Heredia which seems, I mean at least has the appearance of attempting to win a ball game.
Then the heavens opened in Chicago and a rain delay later the Bucs came back for the bottom of the ninth with just called up lefty, Sam Howard. Another head scratcher if you believe winning is the goal, but this too worked out for Shelton.
On to extra innings we go and through a minefield of less than passable major league bullpen arms from both sides of the diamond the score remained 1-1.
The Cubs called on Ryan Tepera to start extras and the Pirates called on Josh Bell with Jacob Stallings at second. Josh Bell drove a ball the opposite way and Joey Cora sent Stallings on the sharply hit groundball, the throw to the plate created a collision but Jake was out. To be honest he wasn’t even close, however, Shelton asked the umpires for an explanation, but it was pretty clear. On the play Bell scampered to second. Frazier lined a ball to second and Bell alertly got back to the bag, and then Kevin Newman harmlessly bounced back to the mound.
For the bottom of the tenth the Bucs sent Howard back out to face Ian Happ and he promptly walked him, which isn’t the worst thing with this new extra inning set-up. up came Rookie Nico Hoerner and while he struck out, a sloppy play by the Pirates moved a runner to third. The Third baseman charged on an attempted bunt while Newman failed to cover the bag. The Pirates then employed a five-man infield to face Almora Jr., Howard struck him out too. It came down to David Bote and the rookie induced a pop up to end the inning. Big stuff there and a welcome sight.
Jeremy Jeffress came on to pitch the eleventh with Newman at second. Osuna grounded to short and Newman suffered his second mental misstep in one inning, this time breaking for third and easily being thrown out leaving Osuna at first on the fielder’s choice. Nothing came of the inning. And if we’re going to blame Cora for sending Stallings, which I certainly do, we need to also hold Newman accountable. He was the only reason the Pirates scored in the game up until this point, but he also can’t afford to play unfocused baseball.
Cody Ponce came on in the bottom half to make his major league debut and got Anthony Rizzo to fly out deep to right, moving the runner to third. Then gave up a single up the middle to Javier Baez to drop the contest 2-1.
The story of the game and I think the season so far is the plan is more important to Shelton than situational baseball and its hard to figure what’s working versus what isn’t when the players just aren’t good enough.
News & Notes:
- The Pirates sat Bryan Reynolds and Josh Bell today, both made it into the game and Josh Bell recorded a hit but the fact remains the top of the order for the Pirates has simply let the club down.
- Joey Cora may have misjudged sending Jacob Stallings to the plate on Josh Bell’s single, in fact he definitely did, but he wasn’t the only one to have a mental hiccup. Kevin Newman made two in one inning, simply can’t have that from one of your ‘best’
- Sam Howard was impressive in his two innings of work striking out 3 and recording more swing and misses (5) than anyone else in the game.
- Largely the Pirates bullpen has settled down, but all it’s really done is put a spotlight on the biggest issue, the bats, or lack thereof.
- On to Minnesota for three against the Twins, Covid willing.