Mitch Keller posted his best start for the Pirates to date, but it was for naught, as the team dropped the opener of a two-game series against the Tigers, 5-4, Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Josh Bell opened the night's scoring with a leadoff blast in the second, briefly giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead. It was Bell's 20th home run of the season. It's mid-June. He had 12 in 148 games total last year.
Just pointing that out. From there, though, things turned sour for the home team, as the Tigers rang up two runs off Keller in the third to take the lead, 2-1. First it was Nicholas Castellanos bringing in Niko Goodrum with a double, then Miguel Cabrera drove in Castellanos with a sharp-hit single.
It went from bad to worse in the fourth, when John Hicks ripped one down the third-base line, generating a fielding error from Jung Ho Kang. The bigger problem here? There were two runners on at the time of the error, and they both made it home safely. Hicks was thrown out at second by Bryan Reynolds, but the damage there was done.
Kang did make up for his error a bit the following inning with an RBI triple to move the score to 4-2, but that fielding blunder would linger in the aftermath of this one.
Keller posted a clean fifth inning and ended his night by giving up four hits, four runs and two earned runs while adding two walks and six strikeouts.
"He did some things much better tonight," Clint Hurdle was saying postgame at PNC Park. "At the end of the day, we had two errors in the same inning. That's a little problematic — one of them his [Keller's on an errant throw to first]. So there was a more competitive fight off the mound, there were more strikes thrown."
Speaking at his stall, Keller seemed to agree with Hurdle, saying, "Definitely better than the first two. I felt like I had more command of everything tonight, just mixing well and limiting damage when there were runners on base. I thought that was huge ... Everyone's a really good hitter. I just need to be a better pitcher."
Taking over for Keller, Michael Feliz entered the game in the sixth and ... pitched... well? In two innings, Feliz struck out two, walked one and allowed zero hits. That's progress for a guy who entered the game with a 7.31 ERA and 1.563 WHIP while allowing 14 runs in 16 innings pitched.
"I think he's [Feliz is] continually getting better," Hurdle said. "I see downhill angle on the fastball, the breaking ball's coming out of his hand with some spin. First-pitch strikes were efficient. He had some swing-and-miss as well, so I like the way he's been attacking lately ... Very efficient first inning, so we pushed him out there for the second, and he was able to answer."
Supporting Feliz's efforts, the Pirates drove in two runs to lock the score at four in the seventh. First, Colin Moran drove in Kang with a pinch-hit single, then Kevin Newman added a triple to bring home a pinch-running Joe Musgrove.
It didn't last long, though, as a bizarre sequence allowed the Tigers to retake the lead for good. With the bases loaded, Brandon Dixon hit a hard line drive back at Kyle Crick, who failed to cleanly field the ball. That allowed Castellanos to score.
What happened next is that "bizarre" part I mentioned. Adam Frazier fielded the ball, began to run toward the advancing runner from first as if to tag him ... but then threw the ball to first just before actually making the tag. He got the force out at first, and Crick ended the inning strong, but that sequence was a bad look for a player who needs something to go his way — be it at the plate or in the field.
"I think we had a chance to turn two conventionally," Hurdle was saying. "I think we had a chance to shovel it to second, turn the ball back to first base ... There's a play to be made there, and I don't think that's the one."
Frazier was unavailable to media after the game.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, and Corey Dickerson grounded out on a close call at first to end the inning. Clay Holmes entered in the ninth, allowing a hit but ultimately exiting the game cleanly.
That brought a tense bottom of the ninth that saw Newman notch a leadoff single, paving the way for Reynolds to make magic happen. Spoiler alert: He did not, popping out in foul territory for the first out of the inning.
Starling Marte walked after Reynolds' pop-out, bringing Bell to the plate with two on and one out.
He grounded into a game-ending double play. Yep. That's an ideal situation for the Pirates' best batter, but it didn't pan out for them as they dropped Game 1 in front of 18,301 at PNC Park.
The Pirates (32-40) are now 2-9 in their past 11.
• Trevor Williams, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a right side strain. He is scheduled to start Wednesday night against the Tigers at PNC Park.
• Francisco Cervelli, catcher, is on the seven-day concussion IL and rejoined the team Tuesday, though his level of activity is unknown. Per Hurdle pregame, they're letting him recover at exactly the pace he needs and "nobody's asking him" when he'll be back.
• Jordan Lyles, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with left hamstring tightness.
• Jameson Taillon, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with a right elbow flexor tendon strain and is rehabbing in Bradenton, Fla.
• Keone Kela, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with right shoulder inflammation and is rehabbing in Bradenton.
• Rookie Davis, right-hander, is on the 10-day DL with a right middle finger blister and made a rehab start for Class AAA Indianapolis on Sunday, allowing one run and three hits in three innings with one walk and two strikeouts while throwing 37 pitches.
• Erik Gonzalez, shortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a left clavicle fracture.
• Nick Burdi, relief pitcher, is on the 60-day IL with right elbow/pain caused by a nerve problem and is rehabbing in Bradenton.
• Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder, is on the 60-day IL with a left calf strain and is currently rehabbing at his home in North Carolina.
The Pirates close their two-game set against the Tigers tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. John Perrotto and Matt Sunday will be on the scene at PNC Park with all your coverage.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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