Last night the Pirates were able to muster a 4-2 extra innings victory over the Oakland A’s that somehow once again involved Erik Kratz. Since being traded to the Pirates on June 11th, Kratz has accumulated just three hits and two runs. Each run has lead to a Pirates victory.
In the bottom of the 10th, Erik Kratz opened the inning with a line drive single to center fielder, Coco Crisp. Jordy Mercer would then sac bunt Kratz to second. Kratz would then score the tie breaking run on a David Freese single making the score 3-2.
With the lead, the Pirates would still extend the lead. With an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, Adam Frazier would single to left field moving Cutch up to third. The final run would be scored as Gregory Polanco lined a single to center as well. With the score 4-2, Mark Melancon was able to secure the save allowing two hits but able to strike out three.
Chad Kuhl started the game facing a second pitcher who is having a fantastic year in as many starts. After making his debut facing Clayton Kershaw, he was matched against Rich Hill who has been nothing short of impressive on the year. Kohl’s start was shaky at best, but he was able to keep it together and allow just two earned runs in six innings pitched. Most of his damage came early in the game. During the 3rd inning, Jed Lowrie would sacrifice in Billy Burns to open the scoring for the game. Shortly after, Josh Reddick singled in Coco Crisp to plate their second run of the inning.
In these three innings, Kuhl had given up the two earned runs on five hits. For the next three innings, he settled nicely as he only allowed two more hits in the contest. After a 91 pitch performance, Kuhl left the game allowing just 7 hits while not giving up a walk and striking out two. It is important to note that while Kuhl fell behind in many counts, he battled all game and did not give up one free pass. While he only allowed 16 walks in 76 innings in Indy, he gave four free passes in his debut against the Dodgers. It would appear that maybe the jitters are being shaked out Kuhl could help provide a stability this rotation has yet to see for 2016.
Though Kuhl had a solid outing, what strikes as most impressive was this bullpen. As the game went into extra innings, they needed to pitch for four innings tonight, and did so with no blemishes. The combo of Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio, and Mark Melancon went four strong allowing just four hits and two walks, while striking out a solid seven batters. The emergence of the bullpen has certainly factored into the Pirates recent success. Over the past seven days, this Pirates bullpen has pitched 23 SCORELESS innings. In that time they have allowed just 11 hits, four walks, and struck out 21. With Shark Week beginning on June 26th, could this be the return of the Shark Tank?
A major part to this bullpen’s success has been the addition of Juan Nicasio and the turn around of Arquimedes Caminero. After a disastrous start of the season, Caminero was sent to the DL. Since his return, he has pitched 12.2 innings and has posted a 1.42 ERA in that time. There has been a little bit of luck involved there, but nobody was expecting a 1.42 ERA pace from this pitcher anyways. Today he sits at a 3.60 ERA, which is basically right at the mark he set last year.
The other main reason as mentioned was Juan Nicasio’s return to the bullpen. After his amazing spring, Nicasio looked to add to an already solid looking rotation. Well, as the rotation fell apart so did Nicasio. Nicasio made his last start on June 16 against the Mets where he saw his ERA spike to a whopping 5.83. That start marked the last time he would be in the rotation. Since he transition into the bullpen, he has made three appearances, pithing five innings of scoreless baseball. In those five innings, he has allowed just two hits and two walks.
After last nights win, the Pirates are now 40-41 at the halfway mark and sit 11.5 games back in the N.L. Central. We know the division is extremely unlikely anyways, so the real number is knowing that they now sit 3.5 games back in the Wild Card with Miami, St. Louis, New York Mets, and L.A. Dodgers ahead of them in the standings.