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Jon Niese flops again as Pirates lose 5-2

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Some highlights tonight:

-P- Gregory Polanco doubling and Starling Marte plating him while flying around the bases in the seventh.

-P- Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer throwing out 400-pound Dae-Ho Lee at home later in the inning.

-P- Some good work from Arquimedes Caminero and Jared Hughes, who combined for 3.1 scoreless innings and whiffed five batters between them.

-P- Clint Hurdle and Jeff Branson getting tossed for arguing a questionable strike zone.

Mostly, though, the Pirates' 5-2 loss to the Mariners comes down to Jon Niese not being very good. He gave up one run in the third (on a couple singles, an error of his own, and then a double play that brought in a run) and one in the fourth (on a single, a walk, a single and then a sacrifice fly). But the dam inevitably burst in the fifth when Niese walked Franklin Gutierrez, threw a wild pitch, allowed an RBI single to Robinson Cano, and then left a cutter up for Nelson Cruz to pulverize.

Niese has now allowed 22 runs in his last four outings, and his ERA is up to 5.07. These recaps now pretty regularly devolve into lists of complaints about whichever pitcher stunk that day, but Niese's performance has been particularly galling because there apparently wasn't much reason for the Pirates to have acquired him in the first place. At least with, say, Francisco Liriano and Jared Hughes, you understand why the Pirates went into the season with some measure of faith in them. Last winter, Niese just looked like a back-end guy, and the Bucs traded a good player to get him. At the time, I imagined that the Pirates' pitching-development system saw something I didn't, but it turns out Niese really is just a back-end guy, or worse.

Perhaps we could add something more about how the Pirates let a soft-tossing, struggling starter in Hisashi Iwakuma cruise through his first six innings against them. When their own starting pitcher blows up on cue, though, I'm not sure that matters much.