Josh Bell’s titanic homer not enough as Pirates bullpen blows big lead
Only a serious problem elsewhere on the team could taint the luster of Josh Bell’s 472-foot home run that splashed dramatically into the Allegheny River on Wednesday without the benefit of a bounce.
But that’s what happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 9-6 loss to the Texas Rangers in front of an afternoon crowd of 13,905 at PNC Park. The bullpen gave up a 6-2 lead in the final two innings, ending a three-game winning streak and, more importantly, raising questions about the pitching staff.
All on the eve of an 11-game road trip to St. Louis, Arizona and San Diego, where the Pirates will face three teams with winning records.
“Abner was onto something when he came up with nine innings,” manager Clint Hurdle said, referring to Abner Doubleday, universally recognized as baseball’s inventor. “It’s a test. Tests you differently through different parts of the season, based on who you have available.
“(The road trip) is going to take us to some tough teams. It starts (Thursday in St. Louis).”
After a stretch of anemic hitting, the Pirates are finally starting to score runs in bunches (22 in the past four games), bringing out a 10-hit attack Wednesday that included home runs by Bell and Colin Moran and two more RBIs from Gregory Polanco.
Bell’s homer was a monster shot that left the bat at 114.9 mph and was the fourth to land in the water on the fly in 19 seasons at PNC Park. It was the fifth-longest in 19 seasons there but 2 feet shorter than another Bell homer that helped beat the Cincinnati Reds on April 7.
“All the stories that were written over the winter and last year on the lack of power might need to be revisited,” Hurdle said. “He’s worked hard. A lot of confidence in the box.
“Consistency of his approach, more than anything. He hasn’t changed lanes after something (happens) one way or the other.”
Bell said: “It was awesome.”
“Got the pitch right where I wanted, didn’t have to redirect at all.
“I feel like I’m in a good place. If I put my swing on it, the ball will go. Biggest part of the game is confidence.”
That was the good news. The other side of things is a bullpen that has been weakened by:
• The loss of Steven Brault and Nick Kingham to the starting rotation.
• Another injury. Keone Kela was placed on the 10-day injured list after the game with right shoulder inflammation, the ninth pitcher to go on the IL since late March.
The last item limited Hurdle’s options after Kingham, Rich Rodriguez and Francisco Liriano handed a 6-2 lead to Michael Feliz in the eighth inning.
Feliz, who started the season in Triple-A, walked three batters before pinch-hitter Hunter Pence’s grand slam. He walked a fourth before Hurdle pulled him.
In the ninth, Tyler Lyons, a veteran who also was in Triple-A after signing in free agency from the Cardinals, failed to keep the score tied at 6. He gave up an RBI double to Isiah Kiner-Felefa and a two-run homer to Rougned Odor.
Along with Kela, Kyle Crick wasn’t available after throwing 43 pitches over the past three games in four days. Liriano was pulled after one inning because he threw 55 in the same time span.
“That’s a lot,” said Hurdle, who was holding back closer Felipe Vazquez for a save situation that never materialized.
“This wouldn’t be a game we would have pushed (Vazquez), especially a day game after a night game.”
In the two games, Hurdle turned to his bullpen 10 times, with Liriano, Feliz and Lyons inserted twice.
The loss to the Rangers was the second game of 26 in a 27-day span, which might put even more pressure on the bullpen. The Pirates will name a replacement Thursday for Kela before their game against the Cardinals.
The trick will be trying to remain relevant in the NL Central after entering the day only 2½ games out of first place.
Bell sounds like he won’t accept any excuses.
“At this point,” he said, “the best players in the game can shower it off.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .