In a pinch, Pirates' pitcher Wilson shows mettle
PHOENIX — Justin Wilson did not start the game Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was not credited with a victory, hold or save.
Yet Wilson pitched more innings than any of the other four pitchers the Pirates used, and his contribution was arguably the most important.
After a hamstring injury forced starter Wandy Rodriguez out of the game, Wilson tossed three hitless, scoreless innings. Wilson was given a one-run lead and kept it safe so the back end of the bullpen could close out what became a 5-3 victory.
“The ball came out of his hand the best I've seen from him,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was going 98 mph to 79 mph and throwing strikes, filling up the zone. Not a single three-ball count all the way through the lineup. A very impressive outing on a night we needed something.”
Rodriguez pitched 2 1⁄3 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits.
“I feel much better now after getting treatment,” Rodriguez said after the game. “Let's see what happens the next couple of days.”
Rodriguez felt a twinge while releasing his next-to-last pitch, a fastball to Gerardo Parra. After his final pitch, a breaking ball, Rodriguez clutched his left leg near the knee and dropped into a crouch in order to stretch.
“Once Wandy left the game, we all knew in the pen that either someone would have multiple innings or everyone was going to throw,” Wilson said.
First up was Jeanmar Gomez (1-0), who struggled through 1 2⁄3 innings. He gave up two runs, allowing the Diamondbacks to tie the game, 3-3.
The Pirates regained the lead for good in the fifth. Starling Marte tripled and scored on Andrew McCutchen's sacrifice fly.
Wilson came into the game to start the bottom of the fifth. He got Aaron Hill to ground out, then struck out Paul Goldschmidt. Usually, Goldschmidt hammers lefties, but Wilson got him out of whack with a 76-mph curveball followed by 97-mph heat.
Rookie Alfredo Marte was the next strikeout victim. This time, Wilson set up the righty with a 97- mph fastball and got him to whiff on a 78-mph curve.
“My change-up is a little hard, so having the curveball helps to get people on their front foot,” Wilson said. “I used that as an off-balance pitch.”
Wilson threw a 1-2-3 sixth. In the seventh, Parra was hit by a pitch with one out. Martin Prado is one of the biggest extra-base hit threats in the league, but Wilson won a five-pitch duel — inducing an inning-ending double play with another crisp bender.
“That was really good,” Hurdle said. “To face Prado, Hill and Goldschmidt, that's a litmus test for anyone.”
Wilson worked as a starter in the minors but probably best projects as a reliever in the majors. He threw only 35 pitches (21 strikes) to get through his three innings against Arizona.