Yankees' 5-homer outburst deflates Pirates
NEW YORK — The Pirates have regressed in a number of areas this season. One particular area of decline — the ability to keep fly balls in the park — does not mix well with the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium.
Pirates pitchers allowed the fewest home runs in the major leagues last year. They produced a historic-best ground-ball rate combined with the third-lowest home run-to-flyball ratio. But the Pirates entered Saturday with the sport's fifth-worst home run-to-fly ball ratio.
The ranking only will worsen. Edinson Volquez continued to struggle, allowing four of the five home runs the Pirates surrendered in a 7-1 loss to the Yankees on Saturday.
After allowing 101 home runs in 2013, the Pirates have allowed 45 home runs through 41 games.
All five Yankees home runs went out to right field or right center. The Yankees' Bronx home has ranked as one of baseball's top-10 easiest parks to homer in each season since its opening in 2009, according to ESPN Park Factors. It's in large part due to the short distance to the right-field wall.
“I think I threw a lot of good pitches. I made a couple mistakes,” Volquez said. “You cannot make mistakes in this ballpark.”
Of course, Pirates hitters were playing in the same park and accounted for only one homer. In the sixth, in his first appearance in the starting lineup since straining his back last Saturday, Starling Marte homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances.
All the scoring in Saturday's came via the home run. Most of it came against Volquez, who always has been susceptible to the long ball.
He has allowed nine homers in 49 2⁄3 innings this season.
The Pirates' primary focus with Volquez since spring training has been improving his fastball command. The Pirates want Volquez catching the plate with his fastball — just not that much plate.
All four of the Yankees' home runs off Volquez — Mark Teixeira's two-run shot in the first inning, Zoilo Almonte's solo homer in the fourth, Brett Gardner's solo shot in the sixth and Alfonso Soriano's home run in the seventh — came off his fastball. Volquez's two-seamer wasn't sinking but running into the middle of the zone.
After a strong start to the season, in which it appeared Volquez might be another successful reclamation project completed by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Volquez has struggled mightily in his past four starts. In his past four outings spanning 21 2⁄3 innings, Volquez has allowed 20 earned runs, including eight homers, and has a 8.31 ERA.
Other than those four home runs allowed, Volquez actually pitched well. He allowed just two other hits and no walks in 6 1⁄3 innings. He struck out three, getting some swings and misses on his changeup and curveball.
“You look at the volume of work: First-pitch strikes were good, he spun the ball very efficiently and he threw some good changeups,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It's again a case of where the mistakes he made, he paid for them, and they ended up on the other side of the fence. But he also threw some very clean sequences. … You just have to continue to work and push through.”
In the eighth, Vin Mazzaro allowed the fifth home run, a Brian McCann two-run line drive that just cleared the right-field wall.
The struggles went beyond Volquez. The Pirates made a number of outs on the bases.
In the fourth inning, three of four Pirates who came to bat recorded a hit — including a double — but the Pirates failed to score thanks to baserunning gaffes.
Marte was nabbed on a strikeout-caught stealing double play. After Gaby Sanchez doubled, he was cut down easily at home plate on a throw from Soriano on Jordy Mercer's single.
“We're always going to push Soriano's arm,” Hurdle said.
In the fifth, Tony Sanchez initially was ruled to have been picked off second base until a replay overturned the call. In the seventh, he was thrown out at second base for the first out of the inning when he attempted to turn a single into a double.
It was another mistake on a day of mistakes for the Pirates.