Two (almost three) gem night
After the Pirates cut ties with Wandy Rodriguez and Neal Huntington said that the team had two pitchers in the minors ready for the big-league rotation, Edinson Volquez certainly was the next man of interest, even if he wasn't necessarily pitching for his job tonight. He took the mound for the Pirates and nearly pitched a gem. (He posted a 64 game score, just short of the 65 needed for a Bill James' gem.)
For the night, Volquez went six innings, allowing only three hits, one run, two walks, and one home run.
"I thought he pitched a really professional game," Clint Hurdle said. "Maintained composure, pitched through traffic early, gave up the solo home run and just kept on pitching."
Volquez said his focus tonight was "keeping the ball in the strike zone." After pausing for a second, he added dryly, "And keeping the ball in the ball park," which made him, and everyone there for the interview, laugh.
The Pirates didn't leave PNC Park gem-less, however. (You had to know this angle was coming.)
In the sixth, Josh Harrison made a catch that both Andrew McCutchen and Edinson Volquez said afterwards was one of the best ones they've ever seen. Moving to his right and stretching out in a style reminiscent of the catch he made in New York, Harrison hauled in a shot by Wilson Ramos to start the inning. With the catch the Pirates had a web gem.
"Probably the best play I ever seen while pitching," Volquez said of Harrison's catch.
"It's a flat-out great play," Hurdle said. "Second great play he's made out there in less than a week."
But the Pirates' defense wasn't finished collected gems.
In the ninth, with the Bucs ahead 3-1, the Nationals were threatening. Having placed men on first and second and two outs, Anthony Rendon reached out and hit a liner into center field. Andrew McCutchen hesitated for a second, and then committed in. It was a risky all-or-nothing decision on his part. If he missed it, the ball would have ended up hopping over his glove and going to the wall, allowing the Nationals to tie the game. But McCutchen arrived just in time, and unlike a play earlier in the night when a ball popped out of his glove on a diving attempt, this time it stayed put.
The Pirates had their second web gem, and their second win in a row.
"It was good that I caught the ball and that it didn't pop out of my glove this time," McCutchen said. "I just took the risk on trying to make that catch, if it bounced I was just going to try to keep it in front of me as best I could."
"With number 22 out there, he going to try to make a play if thinks he can make a play," Hurdle said of McCutchen's aggressive defensive decision. "We encourage these guys to play the game to win and keep moving on."
Edinson Volquez has not been neither a consistent strike thrower, nor efficient with his pitches over his career.
Yesterday afternoon, Hurdle mentioned that Volquez had made improving both these aspects of his game a priority this season. (Hurdle also suggested that he had gone too far with his adjustments, which may explain the increase in home runs allowed.)
Whatever adjustments he has been making, are having their intended effect. He is throwing more strikes, and resolving plate appearances more efficiently.
Heading into tonight, his strike percentage is was 66.2 percent, an improvement of 5.5 percent on his career average. And, he had resolved plate appearances in three pitches-or-less at a 52.9 percent clip, a vast improvement over his career rate of 41 percent.
Tonight, he remained above his career averages, throwing 64 strikes on 98 pitches (68 percent), and resolving 11-of-24 plate appearances (44 percent) on three pitches or less.
Josh Harrison: Leadoff man
Harrison continued his unexpected offensive outburst from the leadoff spot tonight. He went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. He is now hitting .351/.414/.621 with 10 runs scored when leading off this season.
"He's gotten more selective at the plate," Hurdle said, explaining Harrison's success so far this season. "He's really grown ... he's a guy I've gone to in the past to get a spark, get an edge, he's a very valuable guy to have on your club."
Leaving them stranded
Pedro Alvarez batted with men on base in three of his four plate appearances tonight. This is nothing new. Entering tonight's game he was tied with Edwin Encarnacion for most plate appearances with men on base, 115. Including tonight, 61 percent of Pedro's plate appearances have occurred with baserunners.
Going a step further: In Alvarez three plate appearances, he stranded six baserunners and scored none. He now has had 162 men on base in 193 plate appearances. 17 of those 162, or 11 percent, have scored. The league average baserunner score rate is 14 percent.