DK'S GRIND

Kovacevic: Tucker picks himself up off the mat

[get_snippet]

To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Cole Tucker flubs a grounder in the fourth inning Friday night in St. Louis. - AP

ST. LOUIS -- "Talk to me?" Kyle Crick replied when I'd sought to do exactly that. "Go talk to that guy. He's the man."

He pointed, predictably, to Trevor Williams.

"We had a lot of people play big roles," Clint Hurdle would respond to a question about other stuff that happened here. "But nobody played a bigger role than Williams."

They were both right, of course. The Pirates' 2-1 turnabout over the Cardinals on this Friday night at Busch Stadium wasn't just about blowing off that 17-4 embarrassment that preceded it. It was about how that turnabout came about. It was Williams overcoming early obstacles toward seven outstanding innings -- one run on nine singles, barely any struck with authority -- and about Crick and Felipe Vazquez finishing it off.

It was about the pitching. And because of that, it was, as Williams worded it, "huge for us, collectively, especially after a tough loss like last night."

At the same time, Williams always does this. He's that smart, that tough, that consistent, to the extent that he's almost ... boring in that way.

So I'll get to him in a bit.

What struck me the most on this night, from the perspective of the Arch-level press box, was the potentially wonderful learning experience had by this franchise's 22-year-old, possibly-not-ready-for-prime-time shortstop.

"It's all about bouncing back," Cole Tucker would tell me afterward. "You know?"

Well, I know more now than I had.

Flash back to the fourth inning. The Pirates were up by only the margin of Adam Frazier's leadoff home run, Williams had already worked out of a 30-pitch first, and counterpart Adam Wainwright was getting into his own groove.

That's when Dexter Fowler routinely singled to right off Williams ...

... and what should have been an equally routine throw to the infield from Melky Cabrera was missed by Tucker because he inexplicably anchored himself to second base.

Busch Stadium's official scorer incorrectly ruled it E9, presumably because Cabrera's throw wasn't the prettiest. But it still got where it was supposed to go, and Fowler never takes the extra 90 feet if Tucker doesn't lose his mind for a moment. All concerned, including Hurdle when I asked, acknowledged the mistake was on Tucker.

Next batter was Kolten Wong ...

... and what should have been an equally routine groundout instead wound up ... uh, that.

If that looked like Tucker thought the ball might carom off second base, that's a ding-ding.

"The base ... it just looked like it kept growing right in front of me," he'd explain, moving his hands apart playfully.

Two plays. Two actual errors. And coupled with the kid going 1 for 20 in May, it could have been a classic case of carrying the bat into the field, as coaches are fond of saying.

Flash forward now to the eighth inning. Williams was most unfortunately tagged with the tying run in the seventh even though none of the six Cardinals made sufficient contact to penetrate a wet paper towel, and it was 1-1.

Tucker was up. Facing one of the game's better lefty relievers in Andrew Miller. And he did this to open it up ...

... before Kevin Newman willfully went to right field with a hit-and-run single and, one out later, Starling Marte shot one the same way for the go-ahead score.

And in the bottom half, after Crick put runners at the corners at the get-go, he pounded Fowler with sliders to sit him down, then got ... oh, no, not there, not there ...

... but the base didn't magically grow this time. And Tucker didn't anchor himself or boot anything. Instead, he coolly scooped it up and fired across the diamond to the decisive 6-3 double play.

Rick Hummel, legendary baseball scribe of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, approached me in the box to observe that "the kid shortstop threw that ball like he'd put his arm out of its socket."

Which I just had to pass along to Tucker:

Who knows what will become of him this summer?

I advised caution after his hearts-and-flowers debut home run lit up PNC Park a month ago. He's 22. He'd barely spent a couple weeks above Class AA ball. He's raw. He isn't all the way ready. And the Pirates' brass didn't glow all winter about Erik Gonzalez only to bury him once his fractured clavicle heals by July. For that matter, Newman might take some turns there in the interim.

For now, though, that's a golden lesson this exemplary young man can pack away for the next time he needs it.

THE ESSENTIALS

• Boxscore
• Video highlights
Scoreboard
• Standings

[caption id="attachment_824862" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Trevor Williams pitches Friday night in St. Louis. - AP[/caption]

THE GOOD

Williams wasn't just good, as others evidently will attest.

I mentioned the goofy seventh inning, in which the lone St. Louis run came on Paul DeJong's 58.5-mph squibber to the standard second base position that had been abandoned by Frazier on a defensive shift. But Williams also retired 11 batters on three or fewer pitches, he took one batter to a three-ball count, leading to his lone walk. And most impressive, he overcame both of Tucker's mistakes, as well as another by Marte in center, as well as other bad bounces.

"I mean, this is a craftsman at work," Hurdle said.

Imagine if he'd had his clock punched early, as nearly happened in a 30-pitch first inning. But with bases loaded and Yadier Molina at the plate, Williams and Cervelli agreed to bust him up and in, and Williams reached back to smoke one through Molina's shortened swing path at ... 95 mph?

Wait, seriously?

"I don't think I'd seen that from him before," Hurdle said. "We were all talking about it."

Williams, true to character, downplayed the extra zip when I brought it up:

The Cardinals didn't.

"Hats off to Trevor," Wong told reporters on the St. Louis side. "He pitched a really good game. We put together some hits. We just couldn’t drive them in.”

THE BAD

Sorry, I'm not digging up any bad on the Pirates after this one, so I'll instead blame myself for taking this long to show Frazier's super-smooth home run:

That's not much of a pitch from Wainwright, obviously, a painfully flat four-seamer up over the inner half, but that's precisely how a good hitter abuses such a creature.

Frazier's got a seven-game hitting streak, by the way, in which he's 9 for 30. He's coming around.

THE OTHER SIDE

The tee-up for Frazier was one of Wainwright's few miscues, as he'd last seven innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. Which only seemed to make Miller take his own role in the follow-up -- one run, three hits in the eighth -- that much harder.

"I didn't pitch well," Miller said. "I lost the game. There's an 'L' next to my name. Waino pitched his tail off. We played good baseball. I gave up a run in the eighth inning, and we lost the game. Nothing to walk out of here with my head high about."

No, but there's a neat asterisk at play. Tucker told me he'd actually faced Miller, 33, once last summer when the latter was on a rehab stint with Class AA Akron.

"I got a sac fly off him, too," Tucker beamed. "But this was better. And bigger."

THE DATA

 Josh Bell's hitting streak was extended to 10 games with a first-inning single for a second consecutive night. He also busted down the line for an infield single in the ninth. In the streak, he's 15 for 41, a .366 clip.

• Frazier's home run gave the Pirates one in six consecutive games, their longest such run of the season.

• Williams has pitched at least six innings in all eight of his starts, the past six being official quality starts of three or fewer earned runs.

• Crick's held the opposition scoreless in 12 of his 13 appearances, this one highlighted by Tucker's 6-3 double play but preceded by a huge strikeout of Fowler with a devastating slider under the fists. "I wanted to get a popup or a strikeout," Crick told me, "and I didn't want him putting the ball in the air."

• Vazquez's save was his 11th in as many opportunities, another 1-2-3 ho-hum he finished with back-to-back vicious changeups through swings by Paul Goldschmidt.

THE INJURIES

• Chris Archer, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with right thumb inflammation. He pitched a simulated game here earlier Friday and declared himself available to pitch "in five days." Hurdle wouldn't confirm that.

Corey Dickersonoutfielder, is on the 10-day IL with a strained right shoulder. He did some light throwing in the outfield Friday, as well as hitting in the sim game.

• Lonnie Chisenhalloutfielder, is on the 10-day IL with a broken right hand. He also hit in the sim game.

• Keone Kela, right-hander, is on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.

• Jameson Taillon, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a strained right forearm flexor tendon. He will not throw until early June.

Nick Burdi, relief pitcher, is on the 10-day IL with right elbow/biceps pain caused by a nerve problem.

• Jacob Stallings, catcher, is on the 10-day IL with a cervical neck strain. He's on a rehab assignment with Indianapolis.

• Erik Gonzalezshortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a fractured right clavicle. He won't return until at least mid-July.

THE SCHEDULE

These two go at it again twice more, Saturday and Sunday, both at 2:15 p.m. Eastern. Jordan Lyles will face Miles Mikolas in the first, Steven Brault will face Dakota Hudson in the finale. The clubhouse will open to reporters at 9:45 a.m. both days, with Hurdle speaking shortly thereafter. I've got this.

THE COVERAGE

All of our expanded baseball coverage, including Indy Watch by Matt WelchAltoona Watch by Jarrod Prugar, and Mound Visit by Jason Rollison, can be found on our team page.

To continue reading, log into your account: