Dario Agrazal, bats prop up Pirates in victory against Brewers
Dario Agrazal and Kevin Newman were not starters coming out of spring training.
Agrazal was headed to Altoona, a Double-A team, after he had been designated for assignment in January and unclaimed by every other team. He was in Bradenton, Fla., with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but without a spot on the 40-man roster.
Kevin Newman lost the competition for the starting shortstop job to Erik Gonzalez. Then, Newman was shoved further down the depth chart when Gonzalez was injured and the Pirates handed the position to Cole Tucker.
But look at what happened by virtue of their patience and hard work.
Agrazal pitched the first six innings of the Pirates’ 12-2 victory Saturday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, winning his second decision in his third major league start in front of a crowd of 28,038.
Newman, who seized the job from Tucker, was 4 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs, raising his numbers in those categories to six and 32 while his average ballooned to .324, second on the team.
At the end of the night, the Pirates (43-45) shoved the Brewers (47-43) out of first place in the National League Central. The Pirates trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by 3½ games with one game left before the All-Star break.
“We’re trying to go out there and get wins every night,” Newman said, “and hopefully make things real interesting.”
They didn’t do it alone. The Pirates got three scoreless innings from relievers Michael Feliz, Richard Rodriguez and Montana DuRapau. Rodriguez stretched his string of scoreless innings to 171⁄3.
Meanwhile, the offense scored in double digits for the fifth time in the past 13 games and collected 17 hits. Included in the total were Melky Cabrera’s sixth home run, four hits and three RBIs from Colin Moran and a triple and three RBIs by Starling Marte.
Newman, who made a lunging stop in the hole at shortstop to retire Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning, has shown surprising power. His sixth home run represents two more than he hit in any season in the minors.
“I never try to hit home runs,” he said. “It’s just something that happens. I’ve been in the weight room a little bit more this year. Maybe that’s where it’s coming from.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Newman’s success is a product of his confident approach in the batter’s box.
“This is the most confident he’s been in a Pirates uniform,” he said. “He’s shown the hit ability to drive the ball down the right-center-field gap and down the right-field line. We’re seeing a young hitter grow up before our eyes.”
Agrazal also is growing up fast. He was handed the start Saturday after Trevor Williams was placed on the paternity list.
The key was his fearless attitude in attacking the strike zone against the Brewers. As a result, he maintained the upper hand throughout his six innings.
Agrazal, who defeated the Houston Astros on June 27, allowed home runs by Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal but only three other hits through six innings. Agrazal struck out one, and half of his outs (nine of 18) were fly balls in the outfield.The Brewers put only two runners in scoring position when he was on the mound.
He worked quickly, trusting catcher Elias Diaz to make the proper call.
“His poise, his mound presence and the aggressive nature in which he’s getting after it,” Hurdle said, “they’re all really good signs from a pitcher’s first time up and less than a handful of major league starts.
“There doesn’t seem to be much panic.”
Agrazal said he just followed the plan.
“I believe what’s giving me so much success is my plan of maintaining focus, going up there prepared and trusting in my plan,” he said.
“Recognizing that this is just another game, and so far it’s working out for me. My mentality has always been attack mode. I don’t like to put myself in any situation where I’m thinking too much. I love to compete.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .