Jeff Karstens narrowly outdueled fellow crafty starter Shairon Martis on Tuesday, but John Russell and the Pirates' slim-pickings bullpen combined to make this one much more of an adventure than it should've been. The Bucs built a nice early lead in the first for Karstens after Freddy Sanchez doubled in Nyjer Morgan and what should have been an error by centerfielder Willie Harris was scored as a two-run double for Brandon Moss.
The Nats hit a couple balls hard in the first two innings, but many they went right to the Pirates' fielders. Karstens, meanwhile, threw a fastball that came in as hard as 92, and his slow curveball was as good as any I've seen from him--he absolutely froze Adam Dunn with one of them in the second inning. Karstens can be fairly successful with his best stuff against a mediocre hitting team like the one the Nationals fielded tonight. Entering the game, the Nationals had scored the tenth-most runs in the majors, but the Nats' announcers kept referring to the "big three," which apparently included Cristian Guzman. If Cristian Guzman is among your "big three," your offense could use some work, especially when it also prominently features outmakers like Harris, Wil Nieves and Anderson Hernandez. (Not that the Pirates' offense is anything to write home about.)
Andy LaRoche delivered his second homer of the year in the top of the third on a fastball that Martis left up in the zone. Martis did LaRoche a favor, but it was still nice to see Andy knock one out--as much as his on-base percentage has been an asset since his dreadful first few games, it's hard to be a productive starting third baseman without a little more power than he's flashed so far.
Karstens plugged away before running into trouble in the sixth, during which Russell left Karstens in while a five-run lead dwindled down to one. The eighth spot in the order was due up first in the top of the seventh, so Russell probably figured he didn't want to use one of the four relievers (yes, only four, two of whom were Donnie Veal and Tom Gorzelanny) available to him. I don't think that's a great excuse for leaving Karstens in that long, but Russell was dealing with a pretty difficult situation. When Sean Burnett is your second-best option out of the bullpen, your choices are probably going to start seeming stupid and desperate.
Of course, the only reason Matt Capps was unavailable was because Russell had him pitch with a six-run lead on Monday. Russell left Burnett in the game, but Burnett gave up a Nick Johnson triple (a rare occurrence that requires a confluence of events--in this case, a well-hit ball to center, a near-miss by Nate McLouth, and some fumbling by Morgan) and a walk to Ryan Zimmerman. Then Burnett threw a wild pitch, tying the game and moving the winning run to second. Burnett walked Josh Willingham, the Bucs' seventh walk of the game, and Russell absurdly called on Gorzelanny to get the Pirates out of a two-on jam with two outs and a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, which just isn't a situation where a dubious recent callup should be pitching. Fortunately, Gorzelanny notched a huge strikeout.
You know, if Capps can't be dependable as a closer, fine--but the Pirates need some sort of contingency plan, and tonight it wasn't at all obvious that they had one. Burnett's bumbling in the ninth forced the game into extra innings, which was the last thing the Pirates needed.
Fortunately, the Nationals' bullpen is even worse than the Pirates', and the Bucs scored three runs in the top of the tenth. Gorzelanny stayed in to pitch the tenth and, overall, looked pretty good. Not "should be pitching in high-leverage situations" good, but he didn't look nearly as clueless as he looked last year.
Whatever. There are 28 big league teams who would have beaten the Pirates in this game. Fortunately, the Bucs played the 29th team.