Day after spirited comeback, Pirates bats go silent in home loss to Cubs
Steven Brault reported to work Saturday in a good mood.
Inspired by the strong outing Friday night from his buddy Joe Musgrove and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ninth-inning, game-winning rally, he was ready to take on the world.
He settled for the Chicago Cubs and pitched what his manager called the best game of his major league career. But his teammates didn’t complement his effort. The Pirates stranded 11 runners — five on third base, three with the bases loaded. No wonder the Pirates were shut out for the seventh time this season, 2-0, while collecting only four hits (one short of their low for the season).
“When someone has a good start before you,” Brault said, “it’s really easy to get inspired. (You say), ‘I want to beat that.’ You come in the clubhouse, and there’s a general feeling that you’re upbeat.
“I do pitch a little bit better. Instead of being uber-intense, I’m able to pull myself away and enjoy myself a little bit. I was able to do that (Saturday). Part of that was how cool that win was (Friday) night.”
Brault was in command through seven innings, allowing only two hits. One was an infield single by Addison Russell, and the other was Kris Bryant’s 25th home run of the season. Brault (3-2) struck out a career-high eight batters while walking only one and hitting another.
He was the losing pitcher, but he lowered his ERA to 4.06, best among Pirates starters.
“Best performance he’s had in the major leagues,” manager Clint Hurdle said of the two-year vet. “It was fun to watch him attack. His first-pitch strikes were really, really good. Two 3-ball counts. Left-handers 0 for 7. He was really getting after it.”
Brault relied heavily on his fastball and stuck to that game plan.
“The idea was let’s get these guys swinging at fastballs,” he said. “The important thing is being able to throw the fastball where I want to. When I can command the fastball, I want them to swing at it early.”
Brault, who’s in the starting rotation mainly because of Jameson Taillon’s arm woes, is in his comfort zone as a starter.
“The main thing is the consistency of the starting now has been very helpful for me,” he said. “Being able to have my lifting program, my throwing program. Being able to work with the pitching coaches and the other starters. That’s been really huge for me.
“I’ve always felt that over time, I would get better. I’d get back to the point where I was in Triple-A, and I had really good fastball command.”
The Pirates still need reinforcements for next season, but recent outings by Brault, Musgrove and Mitch Keller might give management a launch point in rebuilding the starting rotation.
“He’s a very confident young man,” Hurdle said of Brault. “He’s learning along the way. The energy and the effort he gives you, he wears his emotions on his sleeves.”
But it didn’t carry over to the Pirates hitters, who have collected a descending amount of hits in the past three games: six, five and four. The Pirates moved five runners to third base and loaded the bases three times without scoring.
Perhaps the most distressing moment for Hurdle came in the seventh inning when the Pirates loaded the bases for Josh Bell, who grounded out to second base to end the inning.
He’s been hitless in his past 11 at-bats immediately after hitting four home runs in three games.
Overall, the Pirates were 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 6 with the bases loaded.
“That pretty much wraps up the story for today,” Hurdle said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .