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Offense, bullpen fail again as Pirates lose, 4-3

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Chad Kuhl survived control problems to throw six effective innings, but the Pirates’ hitters and bullpen once again couldn’t support their starter. The team’s 3-5 hitters, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell and David Freese, combined to go 0-for-11 with six whiffs, the bullpen coughed up two runs in two innings, and the Cards won, 4-3.

Kuhl continued his strange recent tendencies, where he seems to have morphed from a contact- and control-oriented, groundball pitcher into a guy who piles up strikeouts and walks. He took 91 pitches to get through six innings and walked five, but he allowed only two hits while fanning five. Somehow, none of the walks cost him anything, in spite of the fact that three of them came with nobody out. Unfortunately, one of the hits was a gopher ball served up to Yadier Molina following an error by Adam Frazier.

Kuhl pitched well enough to deserve a win, but the Pirates’ offense wasn’t having it. They spent much of their time flailing at the offerings of Carlos Martinez. He fanned eight, with the only damage coming when Kuhl grounded a double inside third to drive in Jordy Mercer. (Mercer had reached on a force out following a single by Gregory Polanco, who had three hits.) Frazier later looped a double down the left field line to score Kuhl. The one clever thing the Pirates did was run up Martinez’ pitch count with all the strikeouts, getting him out of the game after six.

The Pirates took the lead again in the seventh when Frazier drove a ball to deep left-center. The ball and Dexter Fowler hit the wall at the same time; the ball caromed toward left and Fowler crumpled to the track. Left fielder Tommy Pham apparently was on a coffee break and, while the Cards sent out a search party for him, Frazier motored all the way around for his fifth HR of the season.

With a 3-2 lead, the Pirates’ bullpen wasn’t up to the task. Dovydas Neverauskas served up a gopher ball to Matt Carpenter in the seventh, tying the game. In the eighth, newly returned George Kontos gave up a leadoff double to Paul DeJong, who went to third on a ground out. With the infield in, Randal Grichuk hit a hard one-hopper that Freese dropped, leaving him able only to get the out at first. That made it 4-3.

For the save, the Cards went to their newly acquired closer, Juan Nicasio. Jordy Mercer led off with a single. Since a sack of $600,000 in cash can’t swing a bat, the Pirates went with John Jaso to pinch hit. Jaso responded with a veteranly, ten-pitch strikeout. Starling Marte flied out and Nicasio got Frazier on another ten-pitch strikeout, and that was it.

Ivan Nova will try to prevent the sweep tomorrow.