Offense lets Pirates down again in rainy home loss to Reds
The season is only nine days old. But through seven games, the Pirates are struggling to find power or score runs — when they're not facing Atlanta Braves pitching, anyway.
For the second time in a week, the Pirates wasted a solid outing from Jameson Taillon, losing 6-2 to the Cincinnati Reds in a rain-delayed game Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Taillon wasn't quite as sharp as he was in his season debut a week prior when he pitched seven shutout innings at Fenway Park in Boston. But he was good enough: two runs on four hits and one walk with four strikeouts in six innings.
“I thought Jameson pitched another great, professional game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It wasn't the sharpest we've seen him, but it was very competitive. He was able to mix in the curveball, the two-seamer, the changeup and mix pitches and attack.”
Said Taillon: “Tonight, my gameplan really was to go out there, get guys on the ground and try to get through the game quick and go deep. I can challenge guys, and I can get guys out.”
Yet despite allowing just two runs over his first two starts, Taillon has yet to earn a victory — mostly the result of the Pirates' lack of offense.
The Pirates entered Tuesday having scored just four runs in three games (30 innings) against teams other than the Braves, whom they swept over the weekend. Even factoring in the Atlanta games, the Pirates were 27th in the majors in runs (21) and slugging percentage (.309), 17th in batting average (.237) and 25th in OPS (.618) through six games. They were tied for last in home runs with three.
Interestingly, they were also last in the National League in steals with one. That total was tripled in an instant during the third inning Tuesday when the Pirates turned to some “small ball” for a jumpstart.
With two outs, Gregory Polanco took off from first — and Starling Marte soon followed from third.
“I saw the count was 1-1, so knew it was good to run,” Polanco said. “It worked pretty good.”
But only because Marte avoided a tag from catcher Tucker Barnhart after the throw had beat him.
The Pirates' other run was the result substandard Cincinnati defense in the seventh. After failing to turn a double play when one appeared possible during the previous at-bat, the Reds committed a throwing error on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier's grounder to shortstop Jose Peraza.
That would be it for the punchless Pirates offense against rookie starter Rookie Davis and five relievers (Davis left the game with a bruised right forearm after being hit by a Taillon pitch in the fifth).
For the second consecutive night, the Pirates did not produce an extra-base hit. They have just nine extra-base hits (six doubles, three home runs) through seven games overall and just two (both doubles in the season opener) in their four games when not facing the Braves.
The lack of power is exasperated by a lack of clutch hitting: the Pirates are 0 for 19 with runners in scoring position in the series against the Reds, who go for the sweep Wednesday.
“It's not going our way right now with runners on base and in scoring position,” Polanco said. “But we're going to fix it. We're going to get there for sure.”
The start of Tuesday's game was delayed 74 minutes by a steady rain that limited the number of fans on hand on the North Shore to a fraction of the already-paltry 11,027 who'd paid to be there.
Taillon retired nine of the first 10 he faced — including striking out former NL MVP Joey Votto with a high fastball to end the first. Taillon made only one conspicuous mistake: a 2-seam fastball that Adam Duvall turned on and hit an estimated 424 feet off the railing of the second deck of left-field bleachers to lead off the second.
The only other extra-base hit off Taillon was a bloop double sliced to right by Peraza to lead off the fourth. He scored on an Eugenio Suarez two-out single.
But after the Pirates tied it in the bottom of the sixth, the bullpen let them down. Juan Nicasio allowed a run in the seventh, and Trevor Williams was battered from three runs on four hits, notably a three-run homer by Scooter Gennett.
“We had a couple shut-down innings we needed,” Hurdle said. “We weren't able to stop them. Leadoff doubles, both times. Five two-out runs — at the end of the day, that was the separator. They hit better than us, they pitched better than us.”
Notes: The Pirates pulled off scoring on a double steal for the first time since June 27, 2015 against Atlanta, when Marte also scored. … An eighth-inning single by the Pirates' David Freese was his 800th career hit.