Rodriguez, Walker push Pirates past Brewers
Two trends collided on a balmy Wednesday evening at PNC Park: the Brewers' recent dominance over the Pirates and Wandy Rodriguez's mastery when pitching in his home ballpark.
The Pirates' lefty starter took Wednesday's round, allowing one run over seven innings to lead the Pirates to a 3-1 victory and rare consecutive wins over Milwaukee.
Rodriguez has posted extreme road-and-home splits throughout his career, and they were on display in his past two starts against the Brewers.
On April 29 at Milwaukee, also when matched against Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo, Rodriguez had his worst outing of the season, allowing seven earned runs over 4 2⁄3 innings. He allowed three home runs at Miller Park, which has been the most home-run friendly park in the Major Leagues this season.
But combine Rodriguez's home track record — the lefty has a career ERA 4.69 on the road and 3.41 at home — with PNC Park, which entered as the most difficult place to hit a home run in 2013, and the third hardest park in which to score, and the Pirates often can count on a quality performance.
Said teammate Neil Walker: “In this ballpark, you can pretty much let guys hit the ball as far as they want, especially to the pull-side, right-handed, and you are going to be pretty successful. He knows that.”
Rodriguez allowed just six hits and one walk, striking out five. The lone blemish was a seventh-inning home run to Rickie Weeks.
Rodriguez lowered his home ERA to 1.35 this season, compared to his 6.11 ERA on the road. The Brewers fell to 24-14 at PNC Park since 2008.
“The key was I used a lot of changeups this time. Last time, I didn't throw as many changeups,” said Rodriguez via bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade, who acted as an interpreter.
Rodriguez located his fastball well and mixed in an effective curve and changeup, on which he recorded swinging strikeouts from Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Gonzalez.
Rodriguez also was able to work around a Lucroy leadoff triple in the third. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle thought the sequence gave the Pirates a boost.
“We talk about things in this game being contagious, and, really throughout the industry, (failing) to score runners has been contagious throughout the first six weeks of the season, if you dig into everyone's batting averages and conversion rates with runners on third and less than two outs.” Hurdle said. “It's a combination of a lot of things. But he made pitches he absolutely had to make to get out of that inning.”
Hurdle hopes Walker's two-run single in the sixth is the clutch-hitting that becomes contagious throughout the lineup.
Starling Marte doubled and Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez followed with walks to load the bases for Walker in the sixth. Walker smashed the first pitch he saw from Gallardo to center for a two-run single, the game's first scoring. It snapped the Pirates' 0-for-23 drought with runners in scoring position in the series.
Walker had driven the ball well since his return from the disabled list Monday. On Wednesday, he enjoyed results.
“It was a little slider-cutter that he likes to throw and get ahead with,” Walker said. “I was the only lefty in the lineup today so I didn't get to see too many guys in front of me, but I know when he gets in trouble he likes to run to that runner-cutter.”
Gallardo's fastball velocity has declined in three straight seasons, and his ERA has risen to 4.70 on Wednesday. But Gallardo pitched like an ace until the sixth inning. He didn't allow a hit until Jordy Mercer singled in the third. But against Rodriguez in his home ballpark, there was little margin for error.
“Our guy pitched a little bit better than (Gallardo),” Hurdle said. “It was the start we needed.”