Notes from Sunday at the park:
Huntington on Radio
-P- Neal Huntington wasn't at PNC park for his usual Sunday afternoon press meeting. Instead, he is in Akron checking out the Altoona Curve. He did make his weekly radio appearance with Greg Brown on KDKA FM radio.
During the interview, the Pirates' GM said that Jung-Ho Kang was "very close" to returning to the major league team.
"We need to give him his spring training," Huntington said. "We need to build him up. We're seeing some really positive signs on the bases and defensively. We're waiting for the timing in the box."
Huntington anticipates Kang will be on a two-game-on, one-game-off rotation when he returns. On off days he will be available to pinch hit.
-P- The Pirates are carrying eight relievers instead of the customary seven. Huntington said the "goal" is to return to 12 pitchers and 13 position players after Kang joins the team. In the meantime, he likes giving Clint Hurdle the additional pitching flexibility.
"It's always good to give the manager as many weapons as possible out of the bullpen," Huntington said. "Clint has had the ability to go get somebody quickly when needed."
-P- Huntington didn't sound overly concerned about Andrew McCutchen's knee, which seemed to be bothering him during Saturday night's game.
"Andrew's knee just felt a little cranky," Huntington said. "It may have had more to do with the conditions last night."
-P- Finally, Huntington discussed Dee Gordon's 80-game suspension for PED use.
"I'm not sure even a year [suspension] would be enough [to eliminate PED use] because of the money involved," Huntington said. "There is so much motivation to cheat."
The player's union will not budge on guaranteed contracts, even to make exceptions for those signed under "false pretenses," Huntington explained. Players are concerned teams will exploit loopholes to void contracts for performance related reasons.
Huntington concluded that there is little reason to think that PEDs will be ever fully eliminated from the game. He did suggest, however, that baseball could do a better job at getting ahead of the problem.
"We need to be proactive instead of reactive," Huntington said. "We need to put money into understanding what's coming down the line, if we can."
Act I: Pitchers' Duel
Through 4 1/2 innings, there was only one storyline to this one. Jeff Locke and Tim Adleman were tied up in a pitcher's duel, and it was just a question of who would blink first.
When Gregory Polanco led off the fifth inning with a home run over the right field stands and into the Allegheny River, it appeared the Pirates were finally on their way to solving the riddle of the Reds' unheralded rookie, who was making his major league debut.
"It was a good swing, I didn't miss it," Polanco said. "Right away I knew it was [a home run]."
But, he says, "I didn't know it was going to go that far."
But the Pirates failed to make any further progress in the fifth, and Adleman ventured on and made it all way to the seventh, when he was finally removed after giving up a lead off single. On the day, the right-hander allowed two runs over six innings pitched. He walked two and picked up six strikeouts.
"[Adleman showed] really good stuff," Hurdle said. "He was really cool out there today. Really effective. The hitters were saying the same thing, ‘This guy's pitching a good ballgame. He's hitting his spots and mixing it up.'"
The Reds broke through for three runs of their own in the top of the sixth. Locke weathered the storm, though, and carried on through seven complete innings.
"Very solid outing today," Hurdle said. "I thought the conviction to pitch, again, was excellent. Pitched a really good ballgame today."
Locke allowed three runs and four hits. He walked two and struck out six.
Act II - A blur
After the Pirates scored two runs in the bottom half of the seventh, the wheels fell off of this game from a narrative perspective. A blur of poor fielding, double steals, intentional walks, heads and bodies banging off walls and uninspiring bullpen work summarizes the ensuing 90 minutes or so.
The top of the eighth, in particular, was a defensive train wreck for the Pirates. Zack Cozart reached second to lead off the inning on a ball that Polanco misplayed and which ended up sailing over his head.
"I'm still making [the] adjustment [to playing that shallow]," Polanco said. "It's only been a couple of months. It's okay, I'll get it."
The Pirates' right fielder also mentioned that he has problems picking up the ball during day games at PNC Park.
After Tyler Holt came in to run for an injured Cozart, Billy Hamilton bunted him over to third. The Pirates then intentionally walked Joey Votto. After Brandon Phillips was retired, Votto for some reason took off for second on an apparent stolen base attempt with two outs and Jay Bruce at the plate. The resulting scramble led to an unplanned double steal in which the ball popped out of Chris Stewart's mitt while tagging Holt. With the run in, the Reds led 4-3.
"I had it the whole time," Stewart said. "I was shocked it came out. I don't know how it happened. I went and watched the replay. I did everything you're supposed to do. Just one of those freak plays that happens in baseball. It came at a terrible time."
The Pirates scored in the bottom half of the eighth to tie it, but Arquimedes Caminero allowed a single and double in the ninth, which scored another Reds' run.
This one wasn't over yet, however. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, John Jaso hit a game tying home run into the first row above the Clemente Wall.
The game wandered into the 11th when the Reds finally put it away for good. Eugenio Suarez led off the inning with a triple. Two batters later Suarez scored on a double and the Pirates failed to score in the bottom half of the inning.
"We like to play, we always have," Hurdle said of his team coming back repeatedly. "There is a lot of fight in this team. We got in our way a couple of times, but we battled."
Act III - Aftermath
Poor defense prevented the Pirates from earning a weekend sweep over a pretty bad Reds' team. The good news is the Cubs lost, and the better news is that the next three days promise to be a lot of fun, as the National League Central leaders come to town. Yes, it is early in the season, but there is little doubt that there will be a some extra energy in the park tomorrow night.
"You get to that point every now and then where you have to say, ‘so what, now what,'" Hurdle said.
The Cubs are on deck.