So, Steven Brault can pitch.
He can hit, too.
In the Pirates’ 4-3 loss to the Brewers Tuesday night at PNC Park, Brault returned from the IL for five and one-third innings, allowing three hits and two runs (both earned) while tallying one walk against six strikeouts. Here he is dusting All-Star Mike Moustakas to end the fourth:
All that while also ringing up the first hit by either team — a single in the third — to mark his seventh consecutive game with a hit.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Brault was saying of his work at the plate after the game. “Now I’m afraid to pinch-hit because I don’t want to ruin the hitting streak. It’s scary. But it’s absolutely a point of pride. I want to hit.”
That little quote contains almost everything you need to know about Brault. There’s the honest answer — that he cares about the hit. Then, there’s some lighthearted joking. But it finishes with a powerful statement where he mentions his “pride” in swinging the bat.
The hits are fun, but the story with Brault and that sense of pride is this: An average reliever gets thrown into the starting rotation out of necessity. Fans grumble. Media members silently await his Nick Kingham-esque demise as he leads the charge.
Then he … pitches well. Then he does it again. And again. Brault is 3-1 this year in 10 starts, posting a 4.09 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. They’re not staggering numbers by any means, but for a team that needed a quality arm when devastated by injuries and poor performances, Brault’s established himself as a solid option.
“There was a lot to like,” Clint Hurdle was saying in his post-game media session. “Twelve in a row before the walk. Fastball, he got the fastball glove-side really well … He didn’t use a lot of offspeed pitches, but he kept them off the fastball. The fastball command was really above-average … I thought it was a really strong performance.”
Brault was never supposed to start for this team, not this soon at least, but here he is — and it’s not an opportunity he takes lightly.
“Last year I was a bullpen pitcher the entire year, but at no point did I think that was where my career was going to continue,” Brault said. “That’s never what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be a starter … This is where I want to be.”
The move from reliever to starter, however, is not a given. There’s heightened pressure and expectations. The preparation’s different. The strategies on the mound are different. So I asked him how his mentality shifts, what challenges that move brings, and his answer surprised me:
While Brault’s comfort level as a starter is apparent, one massive fact lingers. It matters more than anything else I can type: The Pirates lost this game. They’ve lost 20 out of 24 games since the All-Star break. Four. And. Twenty. It’s beyond bad.
And Brault knows it.
“Since the break, we’ve been bad,” Brault said. “That’s the only way you can put it. And not just bad, it’s been — there’s so many one-run games. There’s so many games where, just, they get away at the end there, and that’s really unfortunate.”
But here he comes, doing that Brault thing where he sheds a different perspective on a seemingly obvious situation.
“It’s made our season right now look like it’s been a really bad season, but that’s just not the case,” he continued. “It’s just a really bad stretch. I keep saying we’re not going to finish out this way. It’s a bad stretch and it’s going to look bad, but we’ll get it back together.”
At this point, getting it “back together” isn’t even about making the playoffs for the Pirates. That’s long out of reach. It’s about winning some games — any games — and then doing it again.
Because right now, the only wins they’re getting are feel-good performances like Brault’s.
And those do nothing in the standings.
• On the bright side, there’s Bryan Reynolds.
That’s literally a copy/paste of a bullet point from Dejan Kovacevic‘s game report from Monday night. But it stands. I’m not going to stretch another game into a full column, as DK did, but how insane is this guy? With his solo blast in the sixth, Reynolds is now slashing .335/.407/.529 with 11 home runs on the year.
I’m more and more convinced every day this kid is a robot. Or, as Josh Bell put it earlier this season, a video game character. He’s legitimately in the running to become the first-ever NL rookie to win a batting title — he’s currently third behind Jeff McNeil (.340) and Christian Yelich (.336).
And much like Brault, he received his big-league opportunity because of injuries earlier in the season. Imagine wasting all this in Triple-A, eh?
• Tonight’s wacky and wild moment provided by Elias Diaz and the ninth:
The crowd booed. Hurdle came onto the field to argue.
… Then he heard the explanation.
“Elias let go of the ball, [and] he stayed in the baseline,” Hurdle explained. “You don’t have to have contact with the runner. It’s called ‘impeding the runner.’ So that’s what I thought may have happened. [Home-plate umpire Joe West] laid it out, that’s what he saw … That’s pretty much what happened. So, unfortunately, once you make that throw, you gotta get out of the way.”
Diaz, for his part, remained unconvinced after the game.
“I didn’t think I was in the way, however, they called interference,” Diaz said via translator Mike Gonzalez at his locker. “I haven’t seen the play again. I need to see it again, but [in] the moment, I didn’t think I was interfering.”
• Richard Rodriguez entered the game to relieve Brault of his starting duties, then he casually struck out both batters he faced to end the inning. Remember earlier this season when the mention of Rodriguez’s name would make fans shudder? Remember when he was serving up home runs at every turn?
Yeah, not anymore.
Rodriguez has allowed one run since May 30, a stretch covering 25 and two-thirds innings pitched. During that time, he’s struck out 22, walked eight and given up just 19 hits. Calling it a bounceback almost undersells what he’s been doing. He hasn’t just been “acceptable.” He’s been lights-out.
• Tonight’s paid attendance: 13,965.
• Clay Holmes (10-day IL, triceps)
• Gregory Polanco (10-day IL, shoulder)
• Francisco Cervelli (60-day IL, concussion)
• Jameson Taillon (60-day IL, elbow)
• Rookie Davis (60-day IL, forearm)
• Lonnie Chisenhall (60-day IL, calf)
Here’s the most recent full report.
The Brewers look to close out the sweep tomorrow, with Trevor Williams facing a pitcher to-be-determined. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. I’ll be here to cover that one, from the opening of the clubhouse at 3:15 p.m. through the game and post-game festivities.