Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pitching staff tosses another gem

Chris Resop quietly shut down  the Reds' 1-4 hitters and lef the bases
loaded in the 7th to secure the Pirates' 1-0 win on Tuesday night.
James McDonald was cruising. After just 73 pitches, the Bucs starter on Tuesday had posted six zeroes against the defending NL Central champion Reds and was pitching into the seventh inning for the fifth time in 19 starts when he hit some trouble. First it was a walk to Miguel Cairo. Chris Heisey's sac bunt moved Cairo to second with one out. Great hustle by the Reds' Fred Lewis beat Brandon Wood's throw to 1st base for an infield single and then JMac walked Ryan Hanigan to load the bases. With the pitcher's spot up, slugger Jay Bruce was headed to the plate and that sent McDonald to the bench.

McDonald's struggles shouldn't be a surprise. In his four previous stretches to seventh-innings this season, his ERA is 10.80. and he hasn't finished a seventh this year. 

Fortunately, Joe Beimel was sitting in the bullpen to get Jay Bruce and Chris Resop followed with a one-pitch groundout by Drew Stubbs which paved the way for the Bucs' 1-0 win. The victory secures yet another series win as the PBC goes for the sweep today at 12:35 p.m before the biggest series in more than a decade with the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend.

The starting pitchers get a brunt of the credit, as they should. McDonald has been impressive since May 1 (14 starts, 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA) but also benefited from great defensive because over that stretch team's are batting .270 against him, incluing a .319 clip with balls hit into play. Morton's turnaround is amazing, Correia's impact has been surprising, Maholm is stepping into an ace's role with only -- incredibly -- Karstens and his 2.34 ERA fighting him for that role. .

But the surprise I think is the bullpen. Beimel stepping in to strike out Bruce may be one of the biggest outs of the season. And Resop not only got the grounder to end the7th  inning but pitched the 8th as well, handling the Reds' 2-3-4 hitters, which included All-Stars Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, with relative ease. The Hammer does his thing and 26,000+ go home happy again.

The trade rumors have the Pirates looking for bullpen help. I don't see that need this morning. The only pitcher in the pen over a 3.30 ERA is Beimel, who was struggling with arm issues before going on the DL and he has pitched well in two stints since his return. That doesn't include All-Star Evan Meek, who could take the spot of Chris Leroux when he returns. It's a long season but even some of the arms at Triple A (Daniel Moskos) weren't awful. Ross Ohlendorf, who struggled in an outing at Bradenton on Tuesday, isn't factored in at all as well, possibly replacing Karstens' bullpen spot with a fresh arm that can log innings.

As the days tick toward the trade deadline, these 25 players, and those rehabbing at Triple-A, may be making GM Neal Huntington's job even harder. It's hard to sit back and say 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' especially when the offense scores just 3 runs in two games against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. 

But the team is also 29-18 since a two-game sweep by the Braves on May 24-2. Over 47 games, the Bucs' winning percentage is .617. And that's nearly 29 percent of the season. Something's going the right direction. A good clubhouse, a favorable schedule, a positive outlook. The team keeps going onward and upward.

And right now all of baseball appears to be enjoying the ride.

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