The Pirates powered their way to a 5-1 lead heading into the seventh inning Friday night, but Tony Watson and the Bucs coughed up that lead as the Reds won 6-5.
First, the good: Jeff Locke pitched 6.1 strong innings, striking out five and walking none before giving up two unearned runs in the seventh. Also, the Pirates took advantage of a struggling Mat Latos. Andrew McCutchen blasted off with a solo homer in the fourth. Neil Walker then reached on an error by Jay Bruce (who was playing first base, not his usual position), Russell Martin walked, and Pedro Alvarez crushed a huge three-run homer to right. Then in the sixth, McCutchen led off with a double and came home on a single by Martin.
Now the bad. In the seventh, leadoff batter Ryan Ludwick went all the way to second when Alvarez made his worst throw of the year, a what-the-heck-was-that toss that went nowhere near first base. Locke then gave up a run-scoring double to Ramon Santiago and a single by Donald Lutz, and Jared Hughes relieved him and gave up an RBI groundout by Billy Hamilton. That made it 5-3.
But okay, 5-3 with two innings left -- no big deal, right? Unfortunately, after Curtis Partch walked the bases full in the eighth, Ike Davis whiffed with two outs, and the Pirates didn't get any insurance runs. Then Watson entered in the bottom half of the inning and made a complete mess, getting two hard-hit outs before giving up a solo homer on a middle-high fastball to Devin Mesoraco and then four straight singles. The question of why Watson stayed out there for so long was answered when Clint Hurdle turned to Ernesto Frieri with two men on and two outs in a one-run game. Fortunately, Frieri got the out he needed, but the Pirates were about to head into the ninth inning with their relievers again struggling while Mark Melancon remained in the bullpen.
Then, facing Aroldis Chapman, the Pirates sent Jordy Mercer, Michael Martinez and Matt Hague to the plate, and you can guess how that went. Those three entered the game with a lower combined OPS than Mike Trout. Okay, that's only because Hague had only had one previous plate appearance and Martinez six, and if you're going to have Hague on the roster, it does make sense to have him pinch-hit against a lefty.
But tonight's game demonstrates that the Pirates have pretty significant problems on their bench and in their bullpen. Getting Starling Marte back will help, but the Pirates really need reinforcements. I usually advocate a deliberate approach with regard to trades, but we're close enough to the deadline, and it's easy enough to acquire role players and relievers. The Bucs really ought to do something about this. The bullpen situation, in particular, is unacceptable. It's going to be very difficult for them with only two relievers they can trust, especially when, as we saw tonight, even the trustworthy ones aren't infallible.