When tonight's game entered the top of the sixth, the score was tied 4-4 and the Tigers were dipping into their bullpen. After Vance Worley gave up a home run and a walk in the bottom of the sixth, the Pirates were into theirs.
After Jared Hughes closed out the sixth, the Pirates were still in a very manageable situation. Being down a run in a game that turns into a battle of bullpens is not a bad position to be in against the Tigers. But the Pirates have relief problems of their own, and in the seventh their weak underbelly got exposed and exploited.
Clint Hurdle did not have many good options to choose from following Hughes, who was apparently used up after throwing four pitches in the sixth (plus 29 pitches on Monday). With Justin Wilson unavailable, the options were Stolmy Pimentel, Jeanmar Gomez and Brandon Cumpton. Hurdle choose Pimentel.
"We're continuing to look for guys that can help us out there," Hurdle said. "When you're underneath games you got to find some guys that can get you some innings and some outs."
Pimentel got neither. He allowed the first four, and only, batters he faced to get on base (one was an intentional walk). Three of those runners eventually scored, and when the inning ended the Bucs trailed 8-4.
"Stolmy has shown some ability to do some things when the games had more separation one way or the other," Hurdle said. "We've tried to find some opportunities for the swing-and-miss stuff to show up and it didn't happen tonight."
The Tigers bullpen on the other hand held the fort from the sixth inning on, neither allowing a run or hit the rest of the way. Blaine Hardy went two strong innings getting them to the eighth. Joba Chamberlain struck out two in his one inning. Joe Nathan came in the ninth and did his usual tightrope routine by allowing two leadoff walks and prompting loud boos from the increasingly annoyed crowd. But in the end the Bucs were unable to capitalize, as Jayson Nix flew out to left and Josh Harrison hit into a game-ending double play.
Worley's string broken
After a string of four quality starts, Vance Worley got hit around tonight. After a clean first inning, he allowed hits in each of the next five. For the night, he allowed nine hits, five runs (three earned) and two home runs in 5.1 innings.
"It wasn't a sharp night for him overall," Hurdle said. "Still, the three runs they scored in the fifth inning, if we handled the ball a little bit better we could have gotten out of there with less."
The fielding error in the fifth occurred with a runner on first and no outs. Ezequiel Carrera hit a ground ball to Jayson Nix's left, and instead of taking the easy out at first he made a poor throw while attempting to get the lead runner at second.
"I don't second guess my players," Hurdle said. "The play was taken that way, but if he turns and makes a good throw, the guy's out. The guy's played solid defense for us since he's been here. We didn't make a play we needed to make."
"There were a couple counts where I got behind had to throw some good pitches," Worley said. "But for the most part, man, this is a good-hitting ball club."
Polanco in the two-slot
Since moving into the second spot in the order, Gregory Polanco has posted a .870 OPS. Of course, the good production probably has little to do with the new lineup spot.
"When he gets in a good place in the box, he can take a shine to almost anyplace you put him," Hurdle said.
Asked, if he was considering keeping him the second spot when the team returns to full strength, Hurdle said that he had given it some thought.
Harrison with yet another extra-base hit
Harrison hit a double in the third inning and has now recorded an extra-base hit in 13 of his last 17 games.
Walker apparently unavailable
When Hurdle met with the press before the game he had not spoken to Neil Walker and so did not have any information on his availability. We received our answer in the ninth when Nix was left to bat with two men on and no one out.
Alvarez has one good at bat
In his first start since August 2, Pedro Alvarez went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts. His strikeouts included five swings-and-misses and two foul balls. His single came on an 0-and-2 pitch, in which he made a nice adjustment and kept the barrel of the bat in the strike zone a click longer, enabling him to reach an outside pitch and stroke it into center field.