Big hits from Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang enabled the Pirates to withstand not only some questionable bullpen work but also a brief rainstorm as the Pirates completed a sweep of the Diamondbacks with a 8-3 win Thursday.
Cole got off to a rough start, giving up back-to-back doubles to Jean Segura and Michael Bourn to start the game and generally putting too many Diamondbacks hitters on base. In the second, though, Cole came to bat with two men on and came up huge, belting a homer into an elated Pirates bullpen as the Bucs went up 3-1.
After allowing three men to reach in each of the first three innings, Cole calmed down, getting Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double play to end the fourth and striking out the side (with two whiffs coming on swinging strikes) in the fifth. After a start last Friday in which he recorded no strikeouts, Cole did get five today.
Cole had to be removed after the fifth, though, after having thrown 105 pitches, and it was clear there was the potential for drama with the Pirates' weak current bullpen. After getting two outs in the sixth, A.J. Schugel gave up two singles and then a walk. Ideally, he wouldn't have been left in to face Paul Goldschmidt, but given the Pirates' other options and the number of innings they had to get through, you could understand Clint Hurdle's decision to gamble with Schugel. Unfortunately, the newly-promoted righty gave up a two-run single to tie the game.
The Pirates did, however, get two runs back in the bottom of the inning. Francisco Cervelli singled and Sean Rodriguez walked, and Harrison came up big, hitting an opposite-field double off the Clemente Wall to bring home both runners.
From there, more drama. Kyle Lobstein entered to start the seventh. Essentially, the plan seems to have been as follows.
??? [uncomfortable throat-clearing and coughing]
Lobstein, also newly promoted, allowed the first two batters he faced to reach, and Hurdle quickly asked for the ball, only to replace him with the none-too-reliable Rob Scahill. Scahill, to his credit, induced a double play, then recorded the third out thanks to a sliding catch from Gregory Polanco.
After a brief downpour in the bottom of the seventh, Feliz did take over in the eighth and had a 1-2-3 inning, and Jung Ho Kang singled in two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Starling Marte (who'd had a nice catch going back to the wall earlier in the game) then doubled in another run. Mark Melancon then pitched the ninth despite a five-run lead; he gave up two hits and threw 24 pitches. He didn't allow any runs, but after a long inning today and having also pitched yesterday, the Pirates probably can't use him tomorrow.
There aren't many problems that scoring eight runs won't solve. Today's game, though, demonstrated just how bad things have gotten for the Pirates' bullpen. Tony Watson returning from the paternity list will help, but the Bucs just can't continue like this. There aren't a lot of easy solutions, but it's strange to be watching this on a day in which Chad Kuhl had another dominant start for Indianapolis. The Pirates escaped with a win today mostly because, Goldschmidt aside, the Diamondbacks failed to get hits with runners in scoring position. That isn't a formula the Bucs can, or should, continue to rely on.