The Pirates will take any victory they can get these days, even the teeniest tiniest one.
So, on a day when they were clubbed by the Mets, 13-2, at PNC Park to continue their freefall, the Pirates could at least claim some semblance of a win Sunday. Getting blown out enabled Clint Hurdle and his staff to continue to sort through roster pieces to see who might provide help in 2020 and beyond.
Granted, that felt about the same as winning the seventh-place game at the Great Alaska Shootout. The loss was the 12th in the past 14 games for the Pirates (48-63), dropped them to 4-18 since the All-Star Game as any hope of joining the three-team race with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers at the top of the National League Central standings is long gone.
Joe Musgrove (8-10) was tagged for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. The only positive to that outing was it left 5 2/3 innings for Yefry Ramirez and Parker Markel to mop up and make an impression as relative newcomers to the organization.
“We’re going to need to take inventory from time to time the rest of the way, real inventory,” Hurdle said. “There are going to be times where we’re going to take a look at guys, especially against some of the teams we’re going to match up against in our division, the type of competition that will give us a good read on guys.”
Ramirez, 25, finally got into a game for the first time in his two stints with the Pirates. He was called up from Class AAA Indianapolis on June 16 and sent back two days later. Ramirez returned from Indianapolis on Wednesday.
Markel, 28, made his first appearance a day after being summoned from Indianapolis on Saturday to take the roster spot of Richard Rodriguez, who was placed on the paternity list.
Both joined the organization after being designated for assignment – dropped off the 40-man roster, in layman’s terms -- by their previous teams. Ramirez came from the Orioles in a trade May 27, and the Pirates got Markel from the Mariners on a waiver claim July 27.
Ramirez worked 3 2/3 innings and gave up five runs (three earned) and six hits. Markel finished with two perfect innings, striking out three, and opening Hurdle’s eyes in his first plate appearance since his sophomore year of high school in Glendale, Ariz., by nearly beating out a ground ball to third base in the eighth inning.
“They are guys who have some raw talent,” a scout from a National League team said. “If they were really good, then they obviously wouldn’t have been available. They have good arms, though, and maybe you get them into the right situation, the right fit and it works out. It’s always worth a shot, especially when you’re a team playing out the string.”
Markel’s fastball has been as high as 97 mph during his brief time in the major leagues and Ramirez's heater has topped out at 95. However, like most relievers who end up on the waiver wire, they have been dogged by control and command issues.
While the rest of the Pirates looked like they were playing out the string Sunday, Ramirez and Markel knew their appearances had meaning.
“Of course you want to make a good first impression, on the field and in the clubhouse,” Markel told me before the game. “Everyone has been really welcoming and that helps a lot. I feel comfortable being here and I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been in the organization. I’ve been all over the map this season – literally – but I feel very much like I’ve found a home here.”
Markel began his ninth professional season with the Mariners’ Class AA Arkansas farm club then moved up to Class AAA Tacoma before making his major-league debut. After giving up nine runs (eight earned) in 4 2/3 innings over five appearances with Seattle, he was sent back to Tacoma and eventually DFA’d.
The Pirates assigned Markel to Indianapolis after claiming him and he pitched twice for the Indians.
Markel spent seven seasons in the Rays’ farm system from 2010-16, was out of baseball for a year, then returned to the independent American Association last year. That is the same league in which the Pirates fished out John Holdzkom in 2014, a season in which he became a key reliever during the pennant race.
Ramirez spent parts of last year and this season with the Orioles, going 1-10 with a 6.07 ERA in 21 games (13 starts). He began his professional career in the Diamondbacks’ organization and logged time in the Yankees’ farm system before landing with the Orioles.
Ramirez hopes to transfer what he learned pitching against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays in the American League East into results in the NL. He is also encouraged by the progress he is making with his curveball, a pitch he added upon joining Indianapolis.
“Pitching against those teams in the American League East, you need to be on the attack all the time,” Ramirez told me through translator Mike Gonzalez. “You have to throw strikes and challenge the hitters. I didn’t always do that when I first got called up to the big leagues, but I know that’s the way you have to pitch to be successful. That’s what I did today. The results weren’t quite what I wanted, but I feel good about the way I attacked the hitters.”
Pitching for a team that has lost seven consecutive series to plummet to the bottom of the NL Central standings — and the seventh worst record in the major leagues — Ramirez really has nothing to lose with that mentality.
The Pirates quickly fell behind 3-0 when the Mets hit two home runs off Musgrove in the first inning.
Michael Conforto hit a solo homer on the third pitch of the game and JD Davis added a two-run drive. Davis' blast landed in the fourth level of the left-field rotunda and was estimated at 449 feet.
Here is Conforto's homer:
And Davis' shot:
Musgrove gave up 10 hits while recording just 10 outs, though he struck out five and walked none.
"You're going to have days like this," Musgrove said. "I have to sharpen a few things between starts, but sometimes you just have weird days like this."
Hurdle took slumping Josh Bell out of the game after the fifth inning with the Pirates trailing 8-0. Bell went 0 for 2 against Noah Syndergaard, who allowed one run and three hits in seven innings
Bell has now gone 23 games since hitting a home run July 5 against the Brewers at PNC Park. Stuck on 27 homers for a month, Bell's chances of becoming to first Pirates player to hit at least 40 homers in a season since Willie Stargell blasted 44 in 1973 are dimming daily.
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