Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Brault’s reset button comes with ‘a lot to like’

Steven Brault posted a solid start, Bryan Reynolds continued to roll, and in the end, the Pirates lost to the Brewers. Again.

The Brewers' Ryan Braun scores on a sac fly in the seventh inning Tuesday night at PNC Park. - AP

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.

THE ESSENTIALS

• Boxscore
• Video highlights
Scoreboard
• Standings

THE INJURIES

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 SCHEDULE

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.

THE COVERAGE

All our expanded baseball coverage, including Mound Visit by Jason Rollison, Indy Watch by Matt Welch, and Altoona Watch by Jarrod Prugar, can be found on our team page.

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Cpt. Delicious Pants
Cpt. Delicious Pants

I didn’t watch the play live and I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t know the obstruction rule(I’m also too lazy to look it up at the moment) but when I watch the replay it looks to me like Diaz is expecting the ball back from Moran and was putting himself in position to make the tag. Moran even pumps the ball slightly like he’s going to throw to Diaz before he throws it home to Osuna. My question is shouldn’t Diaz be aloowed to be in a position to make a play if in fact Moran does throw the ball to him? If Diaz moves to his right more he wouldn’t have been able to apply a tag if he did receive the ball from Moran.

DJ
DJ

Rock bottom of the sea.

Now boring through the core on way to China.

PaulieGee
PaulieGee

He needs to be the ace

Cpt. Delicious Pants
Cpt. Delicious Pants

Kind of off topic but since the hustle police on here are constantly railing on guys like Marte & Polanco. Did anyone catch the lazy play by Aaron Judge in the 5th inning of the Yankees/Orioles game last night? What should have been a fairly soft single to RF turned into a double because of Judge’s lazy play and ultimately led to Villar hitting for the cycle.

hbombkid
hbombkid

You can do that when you have the 2nd best record in baseball.

efejr
efejr

Hunter, awesome article! For his many, many mistakes, NH’s occasional quality acquisitions get lost in the shuffle (rightfully so). Flipping Travis Snider for Brault and basically Nova (by trading Stephen Tarpley, the other player in the trade) was a very good piece of business.

Neal Huntington*
Neal Huntington*

I win the small meaningless trades and get crushed on the big trades. Don’t give me any props. I suck.

JAR
JAR

Bryan Reynolds is a machine, its insane. Have you seen anyone that levelheaded, calm, and not show emotion to the worst or greatest things to ever happen to him. what a humbled young man. we need more of him on this team and in life.

Will this ballclub ever win another game? Will the losses matter? I still feel every job is safe!

john mihalina
john mihalina

Great article

LTC(R)_W
LTC(R)_W

Excellent read, Hunter. Nice work.

Jay Roberts
Jay Roberts

Pitchers dropping left and right, and mgmt does nothing
Somehow Pirates close to division lead, and mgmt does nothing
Deadline comes and goes, and bascially mgmt does nothing
4-20 since all star break and mgmt does nothing.

I mean, my goodness, where can I work for a company like this where I am not accountable for anything.

Christopher Rossetti
Christopher Rossetti

They don’t call him Do-Nuthing Nutting for nothin’

'71 Pirates
'71 Pirates

In answer to your question: The US Congress.

Jay Roberts
Jay Roberts

They need a lefty starter, hope he sticks….

TangoMike
TangoMike

Just another L

DAC
DAC

I so badly want to be the cup half full. I am anxious to embrace progress, albeit measured in small steps. I ail when our team ails, so improvement is greatly welcomed. Unfortunately, too little, too late. THIS SEASON IS OVER. The owners continue to look for ways to dump salary. Hurdle is at best an average manager. His motivational attempts fail. His field situational awareness is lacking. He cannot manage pitchers time on the mound. Maybe we will see these progress reports net long-term gain – next year possibly.

Popsfan
Popsfan

While the pitching and defense have been apocalyptically horrible this past month, I do feel bad for the offense, there have been several comebacks that have just missed. Maybe reversion to the mean? They had many improbable comebacks in the first half.

Sing a song of sixpence
a pocketful full of gold
A four and twenty record
This is getting old

Sorry…

August West
August West

The Pirates are 4-20 since the All-Star break. “4+20” is the name of a song Stephen Stills sang at Woodstock, with lyrics that include: “I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace?”

Not unless there’s new ownership!

Mario329
Mario329

Everybody thrilled with five innings and two earned runs and is considered a good performance by Pirates standards. It’s a losing culture top to bottom

Dejan Kovacevic
Dejan Kovacevic

He’d been shut down for a month to shoulder soreness. Context is everything.

Cpt. Delicious Pants
Cpt. Delicious Pants

It’s an industry standard not a Pirates standard. Pretty much ever team in baseball is content with their #5 starter giving them 5+ip with 2 ER. They even created a stat called a Quality Start that defines a quality start as 6ip-3ER. Yes Brault came up 2 batters short of reaching 6ip but he also allowed 1ER less than the requisite 3ER to qualify for a QS.

Mike Shigley
Mike Shigley

My take on the 9th: West made the call he had to by the rule book, but — Diaz’s obstruction had no impact on the progress of the runner, who did not break stride.

randyduncan
randyduncan

Hunter, you really did crush it.

jramser
jramser

A mediocre pitcher on a putrid staff.

Invention Guru
Invention Guru

The Pirates need a lefty in the rotation. Brault has the make up to be a #4 or maybe a #5. Also, the Pirates have to pick up Archer’s contract and figure Keller in the rotation from the start. Hopefully Taillon comes back but you can’t count on him unfortunately. Terrible luck. Musgrove should probably go to the bullpen. 2020 Rotation (which could use a good big surprise) would be: Archer, Williams, Keller, Brault and ??? Not bad if Archer gets going and ??? eats innings and keeps it under 4.0 era.

Joe in Nebraska
Joe in Nebraska

Sounds like Brault was channeling his inner Neal to explain away their horrific stretch of baseball. 😳

Cliff70
Cliff70

Walking Braun after having him 0-2 to lead off the 5th inning seemed to unsettle Brault. Started missing his spots. Still, a better start than we are used to seeing out of this staff. Good night for Osuna, Reyes, and of course Reynolds.
Bucs are now 6.5 games behind the 4th place Reds. If they go 14-35 they will lose 100 games. That is way more likely than going 33-16 to finish at .500.

leess
leess

Is there a reason why Rodriguez wasn’t allowed to go out for another inning after throwing all of 10 pitches in 2/3 of an inning?

DBinAL
DBinAL

Hurdle is saving him – just like he’s saving Vasquez.

The Seton Hall Pirate
The Seton Hall Pirate

I disagree with Brault. This is a bad Pirates’ team having a bad season. Good teams don’t lose 20 out of 24 games. Since starting the season 12-6, the Pirates have compiled a record of 36-59. This is a bad team.

joecon53
joecon53

With a bad manager & a really bad owner!

TC
TC

Bad everything!

Guido1960
Guido1960

That 12-6 start was compiled against some bad teams. Everyone should have seen this coming.

Dante211
Dante211

The interference call on Diaz was kind of ticky-tacky as it didn’t influence what was going to be an obvious out. The Pirates have seemed to have problems regarding controversial calls with Joe West going back all the way to the late 70s. When is this guy going to retire? I remember Bill Madlock having a big run-in with him one game.

Woomer
Woomer

It was actually Obstruction, not interference. But you are right that it’s a judgment call by the umpire with the goal of rectifying any damage done by the obstruction. But this was so blatant that I don’t think he could have avoided calling it on those grounds

kragbax
kragbax

He was literally standing on and just outside the line, also known as straddling the base line. And he braced for an impact with the runner, who (for some reason) ran around him. Had the runner ran into him, interference. Forcing the runner to run around you when you don’t have the ball? Obstruction.

Diaz has a decent arm, but otherwise he’s another in a long list of “just wait” guys that doesn’t live up to the sales pitch.

racer93
racer93

And, again, fundamentally poor baseball play, which arguably cost the game.
Again.

joecon53
joecon53

Classic “Impeding The Runner” Call.
The umpire was correct. Hurdle knew it and said so after thegame.

Cajun Thunder
Cajun Thunder

According to the Brewers website, it’ll be a bullpen game with Drew Pomeranz starting it off.

Woomer
Woomer

“I didn’t think I was in the way. [In] the moment, I didn’t think I was interfering.”

Sigh…..

musicman
musicman

Clueless

ruffian706
ruffian706

I get that Diaz is trying to save face, but c’mon man- you were literally straddling the base line.

Daniel Mucy
Daniel Mucy

Nice work all night, HUNTER! Pencil Brault in as a 2020 starter. He’s as good as we have–for better or worse. Plus he’s a lefty.

dave
dave

Hunter! Your game line and now this article…dude you crushed it all night.
Well done! Keep’m com’n.