DK'S GRIND

Kovacevic: For openers … that’s not the problem ☕

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Nick Kingham is pulled by Clint Hurdle, Wednesday night at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

There's nothing remotely clever about Major League Baseball's 'opener' concept. At least not as it's applied by the Pirates.

And that's because they're not thinking out of the box as much as they are embarrassingly out of options.

Montana DuRapau, the 32nd-round pick called up from Class AAA Indianapolis this month, mostly for his moxie, has been the designated opener to date. And the role itself has been much discussed, which is probably something this front office loves, as they're always pushing within the industry this false notion that they're pioneers of some sort.

This was how DuRapau, um, opened what wound up a 9-3 annihilation at the Rockies' hands Wednesday night at PNC Park:

That was Daniel Murphy, doing precisely what any self-respecting citizen would have done to that 91.4 mph flat fastball, ringing up a three-run lead before the third out had been recorded.

In fact, DuRapau wouldn't finish the inning, Clint Hurdle taking the ball at the two-thirds mark after 27 pitches and seemingly twice as many minutes of actual time.

I asked Hurdle if there was a hard limit behind the hook. Meaning within the inning.

"What I wanted to do after the home run was let him finish the inning. It's a unique situation, but go ahead and get that last out and walk off the mound. He was a couple pitches away. But you've got to finish. He didn't make 'em, and he paid the price."

Whatever. DuRapau doesn't matter much. And the opener concept itself doesn't matter at all. Not here.

This is why:

That, my friends, is Nick Kingham. And where he goes, a fountain of runs will follow.

The pitch up there to Tony Wolters was a two-strike, two-out fastball with two men aboard and the pitcher on deck. Kingham's first three pitches of the at-bat had been away, so Elias Diaz moved his big mitt pretty much under Wolter's armpits with the transparent hope of backing him off.

Instead, a No. 8 hitter with zero home runs -- despite playing in Denver, mind you -- looked like Matt Stairs on that one.

Did Kingham leave it a little too much over the white?

I asked:

I checked with Diaz, too, and he confirmed the pitch was on target. And when I pressed how Wolters was able to get that swing on it, Diaz shrugged and replied, "Good question."

I'll buy it from Diaz. But Kingham's got a thing for invariably crediting hitters and denying any pitches are ever mistakes, as some will recall John Perrotto's reporting from San Diego a few days ago, so he doesn't exactly earn the benefit of the doubt. Neither does his 8.76 ERA through 11 appearances. Nor his team-worst 1.99 WHIP, or walks and hits per inning pitched.

Nor, for that matter, his overall awful four innings in this game, in which the Rockies reached base safely 13 times -- nine hits and four walks -- and he ran up 89 pitches in a situation that could have used a little length.

So, why's this guy still here?

Maybe he finally won't be after this. Hurdle sounded dissatisfied in San Diego, and it was no different after this.

"We'll continue doing work," Hurdle said. "But pitch efficiency is still a challenge. That's 80-plus pitches to get 12 outs. We've seen better from him, but it's been a while."

Not to pick on Kingham. He's been predictably bad, but he's also had ample company. Steven Brault's keeping frightening pace alongside Kingham with an 8.24 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in seven appearances. Clay Holmes and Dovydas Neverauskas have been as bad or worse. And it's because Kingham and Brault, in particular, have been catastrophic that this opener concept -- something the Rays have done for more than a year because they've got actual arms through actual drafting and actual development -- was conceived at all.

On that note, Kingham, Brault, Holmes and Neverauskas also have this in common: They're the internally acquired and developed that's been brought up in the very real event of a very real emergency in Pittsburgh -- a winning team that's lost two starters from the rotation, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams -- and what's been cumulatively produced ... wait for it ... an 8.77 ERA.

No, really, these four have logged 53 1/3 innings of 52 earned runs, 73 hits, 10 home runs, 34 walks, and a 2.01 WHIP.

That required a lot of research. Please look at it again.

Better yet, clip and send to someone in the front office.

Because while those gentlemen keep recycling these same failed prospects, they're wasting a team that's somehow 24-22, carries itself with abundant spirit and, hey, just happens to have a bona fide MVP candidate in Josh Bell routinely launching baseballs into the Allegheny River.

Go get help. Open the bleeping wallet. Trade for other team's prospects that have been properly developed.

But don't sit there and regurgitate these same failed prospects, presumably in the name of proving some point.

THE ESSENTIALS

• Boxscore
• Video highlights
Scoreboard
• Standings

THE GOOD

Bell's blast in the second inning carried 454 feet before plopping directly into the drink, the fifth to make it on the fly in stadium history and yet, remarkably, Bell's second this month. He did it May 8, and he just did it again, and there was another that cleared the batter's eye that went farther still.

"It's fun to watch," Hurdle beamed. "It's amazing."

More amazing than the distance was the path it took over the left edge of the seating section above the Clemente Wall, or directly above the 1925 World Series flag for those really familiar with the place:

That's insane. That's where Ryan Howard was dropping them in the Home Run Derby before the 2006 All-Star Game, and he had an accomplice on the mound.

Understand that, even as the ballpark was under construction, it had been openly discussed that the only way humans were going to hit the ball out on the fly was to go dead-pull. And for the better part of two decades, that's held true ... until now.

THE BAD

The drafting. The developing. Never separate the two. Never forget one. Never omit one.

A ton can be overcome with a low payroll, even injuries. Tampa's Exhibit A for everyone in the sport right now, spending $19 million less than the Pirates but 10 games over .500. But there's nowhere to run or hide from a barren pipeline.

THE OTHER SIDE

Jon Gray's seven solid innings for the Rockies -- three runs, seven hits, seven Ks -- came amid not being rattled by Bell's blast.

Well, not much, anyway.

Gray acknowledged to reporters on the Colorado side that he'd learned a technique of finding a flagpole in the park, focusing on it and using it as a pause or refresh button. He did that after Bell had touched 'em all, explaining, “Before things go terrible, it’s time to step off, look at the flagpole, remember what you’re doing, think of what’s the best thing to do in the situation and stay on top of that.”

So, the next time Bell came up, Gray fanned him on three pitches, capped by an unforgiving curve.

“It was just another at-bat, just another inning ... until I got to two strikes,” Gray said. “Then it was, ‘I’m gonna put you away. I’m not going to make any mistakes here.’”

THE DATA

• Bell's 45 RBIs lead the majors, and that's the most for anyone in franchise history through 46 games since Brian Giles' 48 in 2000 and, before that, Paul Waner's 56 in 1927.

• The Bell home run had an exit velocity of 116.2 mph, according to MLB.com's Statcast, making it the hardest-hit ball by anyone with the Pirates since Statcast added exit velocity in 2015.

• Bell is one of four players and one of three Pirates to reach the Allegheny on the fly. The others were Daryle Ward -- when he was with the Astros -- on July 6, 2002, as well as Garrett Jones on June 2, 2013, and Pedro Alvarez on May 19, 2015.

• Still more Bell: He's hit five home runs of 450-plus feet. No one else in the majors has more than three of those.

• Announced attendance was 9,534, but less than half of that made it through the turnstiles for the first pitch, per the visual evidence I'll humbly offer here:

[caption id="attachment_830968" align="aligncenter" width="640"] The local library. - DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS[/caption]

THE INJURIES

• Francisco Cervelli, catcher, was held out of the starting lineup with an upper-chest bruise.

• Trevor Williams, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a right side strain and is responding well to treatment, per Todd Tomczyk, the team's head athletic trainer.

• Jameson Taillon, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with a strained right forearm flexor tendon. He's still not throwing.

• Keone Kela, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation but nearing a return after throwing a sim game Wednesday.

Corey Dickersonoutfielder, is on the 10-day IL with a strained right shoulder. He hit in the sim game Wednesday and also could go out on a rehab assignment soon. 

• Jung Ho Kang, third baseman, is on the 10-day IL with a strained left side. He's batting in the cage and could go out on a rehab assignment soon.

• Lonnie Chisenhalloutfielder, is on the 10-day IL with a broken right hand but now has calf tightness and, additionally, is away from the team on a personal leave.

• Erik Gonzalezshortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a fractured right clavicle. He's still not doing baseball activities.

Nick Burdi, relief pitcher, is on the 60-day IL with right elbow/biceps pain caused by a nerve problem.

THE SCHEDULE

The series finale is a Thursday matinee, 12:35 p.m., with Jordan Lyles pitting his 1.97 ERA against righty Antonio Senzatela. John Perrotto will be back on the beat.

THE COVERAGE

All 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.

MATT SUNDAY GALLERY

[caption id="attachment_830985" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Pirates vs. Rockies, PNC Park, May 22, 2019 - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

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