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Juan Nicasio struggles, Pirates shelled by Tigers, 8-2

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Nicasio was every bit as bad in his second start for the Pirates as he was good in his first, throwing 94 pitches in order to labor through just three innings.  The second batter he faced, Justin Upton, went deep, and things never improved from there.  In his three innings, Nicasio walked five and allowed six hits.  The Tigers got only four runs off him because they left two runners on base in each inning.  The only positive for Nicasio was four strikeouts, which helped him out of a couple jams.

The Pirates meanwhile did little with Anibal Sanchez, getting just two hits through the first five innings.  There may be something to the team's OBP-oriented approach, though; despite the lack of baserunners, by the time David Freese came up with two out in the sixth, Sanchez was over 100 pitches.  Freese got an infield hit and Starling Marte followed with his second HR.  A walk to Francisco Cervelli chased Sanchez and brought in a familiar face, Justin Wilson, who retired Gregory Polanco.

Unfortunately, Kyle Lobstein, who'd thrown two scoreless innings up to that point, quickly gave back the runs and then some.  Two singles and two doubles ran the score to 7-2.  Cory Luebke gave up a HR to Ian Kinsler in his two innings, while the Pirates mounted no more offense apart from a futile leadoff double by Marte in the ninth.  A day after piling up 17 hits, they finished with five in the 8-2 loss.

Leaving aside the usual post-loss, doomsday pronouncements, this game probably isn't a symptom of anything more than the Tigers having an explosive offense, Anibal Sanchez being a good pitcher, and Nicasio being a work in progress.  The one lesson that perhaps can be drawn from it, and it's nothing that shouldn't have been obvious already, is that a bullpen with Lobstein, Ryan Vogelsong and a high-risk project like Luebke isn't really that strong.  The Pirates are hoping to rely on the bullpen to make up for a rotation that isn't on a level with their closest competitors, but they're going to need it to help win games in a manner other than just Feliz, Watson and Melancon holding leads in the last three innings.  It made no difference today, but they won a string of games because of great, middle-inning relief late last year.  They don't appear to have a Joe Blanton in the pen now.