Pirates can't get their offense going in another close loss to A's

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 11:30 p.m.

As long as the Pirates' offense forces its pitchers to work without a safety net, just one bad pitch can lead to a loss.

Pirates rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole learned that hard lesson Tuesday, when the Oakland Athletics parlayed a two-run homer by Brandon Moss into a 2-1 victory.

The Pirates managed only three hits — a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez in the second inning, a two-out single by Starling Marte in the third and Jose Tabata's single in the ninth. The Pirates have lost four games in a row, scoring a total of six runs.

“When you're not scoring runs, everything is magnified,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Cole (4-2) worked seven innings and gave up two runs and five hits, walked two and struck out four. Although he's lost his past two starts, Cole has nudged his ERA down from 3.70 to 3.68.

“I think it's fun,” Cole said of trying to coax a win despite meager run support. “You want the best out of the other team; any competitive person will say that. We put good at-bats together, we played good defense. Sometimes the ball doesn't fall your way.”

It took Cole 22 pitches to navigate the first inning, but no damage was done. The A's loaded the bases with two outs on singles by Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes and a four-pitch walk to Josh Reddick. Cole whiffed John Jaso to end the inning.

After an eight-pitch third inning, Cole got two quick outs in the fourth. Then, he ran into trouble.

Jaso lined a double down the left field line. Jaso made a slow turn around first base and could have been an easy out at second, but Starling Marte's throw was late and way off line.

Moss launched the next pitch — an 87 mph changeup — into the seats above the Clemente Wall. It was the 16th homer of the year for Moss, who hit a total of 13 with the Pirates from 2008-10.

The Pirates were handcuffed for 6 13 innings by Dan Straily (6-2), a rookie right-hander. Half of Straily's wins have come in interleague games, and he's put up a 0.92 ERA in those three starts against National League clubs.

Alvarez gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the second inning by hitting a moon shot off the batter's eye behind the shrubbery in center field.

It was just the third home run by Alvarez in 155 career plate appearances when batting cleanup. He's started 39 games, including five this season, in the No. 4 spot.

Alvarez batted fourth three times over the first four games of the season, and he went 2 for 11 with three strikeouts and one RBI. By June 7, he had dropped to sixth in the lineup and was batting .199.

Yet, no matter what David Wright may think about Alvarez's power potential, Hurdle always believed in the young slugger.

“The facts are telling me that (cleanup) hasn't been a comfortable spot for him,” Hurdle said in late June. “But I think there's a time coming when, through Pedro's experience and maturity, it's going to be a seamless transition.”

Perhaps that time is now. Since June 7, Alvarez has hit at a .333 clip with 11 home runs. He's riding a seven-game hitting streak and is back in the No. 4 spot.

“He's become more of a bully in the box,” Hurdle said Tuesday. “He's in a very confident position now. He's been able to work through some stretches of swing-and-miss and it hasn't sent him back. He's getting a little older, he's getting a little smarter and he's gaining experience.”

Last weekend, Alvarez was rewarded with a spot on the NL roster for the All-Star Game. Still, many folks believe Alvarez deserves an even bigger role in next week's festivities at Citi Field.

Although he has gone deep 23 times, which ties him for second most in the league, Alvarez was passed over by team captain Wright for a spot in the Home Run Derby.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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