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Lyles’ nosedive so steep he can’t last an inning


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The Cubs' Willson Contreras rounds the bases after his three-run home run in the first inning Saturday in Chicago. - AP

CHICAGO -- Jordan Lyles once looked like a great value free-agent signing by the Pirates. Now, he looks like a pitcher who does not belong in the rotation of a team that claims it is a contender.

Lyles’ woes continued Saturday as the Pirates were pounded by the Cubs, 10-4, at Wrigley Field, dropping them 4 1/2 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central. The right-hander failed to make it out of a seven-run first inning, retiring just two of the 10 batters he faced. And there wasn’t much to further dissect about the outing because it lasted 43 pitches, just 22 of which were strikes.

“He didn’t get engaged in the strike zone often enough and that put him in bad counts,” Clint Hurdle said.

Lyles’ assessment was “I missed the glove far too often. The longer the inning went, the worse my command got.”

That was indeed the outing in a nutshell. The Cubs (49-43) wound up scoring their seven runs off Lyles (5-6) on four hits and four walks.

Anthony Rizzo followed a pair of walks by grounding an RBI single into left to beat the shift and open the scoring. Willson Contreras then unloaded a three-run home run to right field off a curveball:

Things only got worse for Lyles when winning pitcher Jon Lester (9-6) added a two-run single off the left-field wall before Chris Stratton relieved and surrendered Javier Baez’s run-scoring double.

Down 7-0, the game was effectively over and the Pirates (44-47) are now 0-2 following the All-Star break. They finished the first half by winning 12 of 17 games.

According to our Bob Maddamma, it was the 17th game in 2019 that Pirates pitching has given up 10 or more runs and they are 1-16 in those games. Last season, the PIrates allowed double-digit runs just 11 times.

Furthermore, when the Pirates hold the opposition to five or fewer runs this season, they have a 40-17 record. They are 4-30 when allowed six or more runs.

Lyles look like a bargain early in the season when he posted a 1.98 ERA in his first eight starts, after being signed to a one-year, $2.05-million contract as a free agent in December. However, Lyles’ ERA is 10.13 in his past seven starts, having allowed 33 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings.

The easiest solution would be to remove Lyles from the rotation. However, the Pirates are short on starters with Steven Brault on the injured list because of a left shoulder strain. They do not feel Mitch Keller is ready return to the major leagues after flopping in a three-start trial.

Thus, the Pirates will have to ride it out with Lyles at least a little while longer, unless they acquire help from outside the organization, though nothing seems imminent.

Lyles had his own injury problem last month when he sat out almost three weeks with left hamstring tightness. However, Hurdle and Lyles both said the hamstring is no longer an issue.

“He’s checked out fine,” Hurdle said. “He’s just not executing pitches.”

Lyles talked more about his outing:

Reliever Luis Escobar executed some pitches in his major-league debut by working two scoreless innings of relief, though the Pirates were down 10-1 when he entered in the fifth inning. Recalled last Sunday from Class AAA Indianapolis, Escobar was particularly happy to do so on his maternal grandfather’s birthday.

When I asked Escobar through team translator Mike Gonzalez what it means to not give up any runs in his debut, the 23-year-old smiled.

“It’s all I ever wanted,” he said. “That’s the goal to out there, not only for my debut but to help the team. It felt great. I felt like I genuinely accomplished a dream that I’ve had for a long time.”

Starling Marte accomplished a significant goal by reaching 100 home runs in his eight-year career. He hit solo shots off Lester in the sixth and Randy Rosario in the eighth. That came a day after Marte homered while playing in his 900th game.

Here were the homers:

Marte became the second player in Pirates' history to have 100 homers and 200 stolen bases, joining Barry Bonds. However, that and a solo homer by Jung Ho Kang were the extent of the highlights for the Pirates on a long, hot afternoon.

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