Mitch Keller improves in PNC Park debut, but Pirates lose to Tigers
The Pittsburgh Pirates committed a pair of errors in one inning, leading to two unearned runs by the Detroit Tigers.
They left eight runners on base after the fourth inning, and they managed only one hit in 10 tries with teammates in scoring position.
Under those circumstances, no one should be surprised by the last-place Pirates’ 5-4 loss Tuesday night at PNC Park.
The result was the Pirates’ ninth loss in the past 11 games, with all three groups – pitchers, hitters and fielders – contributing equally.
“You need to play complete games to win at this level,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to win when you don’t and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.
“More often than not, we need to put all three components together. This was an opportunity to get out of the blocks quicker and not give up four runs in the first five innings. So, it was a combination of things.”
Yet, the Pirates rallied from an early 4-1 deficit to make it an interesting finish for the crowd of 18,301. The bats were there, just not often enough.
• Josh Bell hit his 20th home run, sixth from the right side.
• Jung Ho Kang legged out his first triple in nearly four years.
• Colin Moran (a single) and Kevin Newman (a triple) delivered two-out RBI hits.
As a result, the victory wasn’t far from the Pirates’ grasp, but they failed to complete a tough double play with the score tied in the eighth, and that’s what ultimately helped the Tigers stop their four-game losing streak.
With the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, the Tigers’ Brandon Dixon skipped a groundball past relief pitcher Kyle Crick. Second baseman Adam Frazier was there to field it and he might have had time – manager Clint Hurdle said he did – to flip to shortstop Kevin Newman and start a double play and preserve the tie.
Instead, Frazier tried to tag Christin Stewart running from first, couldn’t reach him and hurriedly flipped to first to get an out. Meanwhile, the decisive run scored from third.
“I think we had a chance to turn two conventionally,” Hurdle said. “I think we had a chance to shovel it to second, turn the ball back to first base.
“There’s a play to be made there, and I don’t think that’s the one. Sometimes, things happen, you change your mind in the middle of a play.”
Frazier did not meet with reporters after the game, but Newman said the play could have gone either way.
“It was a funky play,” he said. “Dixon runs well.”
But the loss can’t be solely blamed on one moment of indecision by Frazier.
• Kang was stranded at third after his no-out triple.
•Starling Marte struck out to end the seventh with runners on second and third.
• Pinch-hitter Corey Dickerson grounded out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
• Bell grounded into a double play to end the game, with Newman and Marte on base.
“It was a combination of things,” Hurdle said. “That’s why you continue to coach ‘em. They know what’s at stake.”
Lost in the series of late-inning events was rookie starting pitcher Mitch Keller’s best outing of his first three in the majors.
Coming into the game with a 15.43 ERA, he struck out six and allowed four hits and two walks in five innings. But the Tigers scored four times, with two unearned runs crossing the plate in the fourth on back-to-back errors.
After a leadoff single by Dixon, Keller threw wildly on Harold Castro’s sacrifice bunt. Then, Kang let John Hicks’ grounder get by him at third base for a two-run error.
“He did some things much better tonight,” Hurdle said. “There was more competitive fight off the mound. There were more strikes thrown.
“At the end of the day, two errors in the same inning are problematic, one of them his.”
Keller was encouraged by his home debut, but with Trevor Williams returning Wednesday, Jordan Lyles close and Steven Brault on a positive roll, there may not be room for him in the starting rotation.
“I felt like I had more command of everything tonight, just mixing well,” he said.
In the first inning, he struck out future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, who responded with an RBI single in the third.
“He’s probably going to go the Hall of Fame, which is kind of crazy to think about,” said the 23-year-old Keller. “But in the back of your mind, he’s just another hitter.
“A guy of that caliber, you have to be a little bit better with your pitches, especially with runners on base and I didn’t do that.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .