The slightest of mistakes
In the fourth inning of Saturday night's game, Chad Kuhl threw a sinker mostly where he intended against Xavier Scruggs. It was targeted to the bottom inner half of the zone. Preferably, it would have ended tight and just under the right-handed hitter's knees. But halfway to home the ball started drifting slightly towards the middle of the plate. Kuhl wanted it to stay all the way inside, but it was still a well-executed pitch.
"That's where you want it, maybe it caught a little bit of the plate," Kuhl said. "That's where I'm trying to hit for sure."
Scruggs reached down and sent the pitch on a straight line to left field. Before Starling Marte could turn and run seven steps back, it was already halfway up in the left field bleachers and the Marlins had a 3-0 lead. The sequence was a reminder of the razor's edge that pitchers sometimes walk. A slight mistake can cast a pall over an otherwise good night.
"You're trying to execute and you execute a pitch and he gets you," Kuhl said. "It's just part of the game so you have to kind of get back. You don't want to give up runs, you know, especially on a pitch like that. You really think you can get him on the ground, you kind of execute a pitch, it kind of fires you up a little bit and [angers] you a little bit."
Kuhl's night ended after six fairly solid innings. He allowed five hits and two earned runs and recorded neither a walk nor a strikeout. More importantly going forward, his sinker did what he wanted it to do most of the night, and that's a good sign for him and the Pirates' rotation.
"I thought he pitched a very competitive ballgame," Clint Hurdle said. "He pitched out of traffic in the third inning, when it could have really got complicated. He showed really good poise to get the ground ball to get the double play to end the inning. I thought he pitched very good ballgame."
David Phelps dotted up the corners with a popping fastball and got swings and misses with a sharp curveball. He received some help on couple friendly corner calls by home plate umpire, Ron Kulpa, but overall it was a suffocating performance from the right-hander.
"It's tough to hang in there when pitches are moving and some you feel are a little in, a little out," Josh Harrison said. "It's tough to expand your zone. It's tough when a guy is pitching to the corners and not really missing and getting [strike calls]."
Phelps struck out nine and allowed only two hits over six innings. He did not allow a run.
Hurdle said that Phelps was able to command both corners of the plate all night, which created an "X" for hitters as balls darted towards and away from them.
"It doesn't happen very often," Hurdle said. "He was able to do it all night. Two-seamer to the left-handers off the plate run back over the edge. Cutter runs tight. So you're getting those on both edges of the plate vs. left and right-handers. Both inside and outside, which is really good pitching."
Andrew McCutchen made a spectacular diving catch in the top of the second on fading line drive by Ichiro Suzuki. The catch may have prevented a run, but more likely he kept the Marlins from setting up a second and third situation with one out.
In the third, however, McCutchen yielded the first run of the game when he misplayed a fly ball over his head in the left-center field gap.
According to Fangraphs UZR/150 score, the Pirates' center fielder is having the worst defensive performance of his career. Amongst all qualified center fielders, he ranks 15th out of 16 with a -14.7 score.
He plays defense, too
Josh Bell pinch hit John Jaso in the seventh inning. After popping out to second, Hurdle sent Bell into the field to play defense for the first time in his major league career.
"We didn't force it," Hurdle said of what appears to be an opportunity for Bell to get some extended playing time going forward. "The unfortunate injury to Jung Ho [Kang] has opened up an opportunity for him to come in and get fed some at bats and get some playing time."