Michael Feliz never has started a game in the major leagues before Friday night. He looked like he was unaccustomed to the opportunity.
Backed into a corner by injuries to two starters, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle chose Feliz, a struggling relief pitcher, to open the game against the two-time defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park. Feliz entered the game knowing he needed to throw no more than two innings.
Feliz didn’t even make it out of the first, allowing five runs on four hits, including a grand slam by former Pirate David Freese that gave the Dodgers a five-run lead after only six batters and 22 pitches. The Dodgers went on to win, 10-2.
Feliz retired one batter, and it was Cody Bellinger, one of baseball’s best. But Bellinger lined out to second base.
Before Bellinger, Matt Beaty singled, Max Muncy doubled him home and Justin Turner singled. After getting ahead of Corey Seager 1-2, Feliz walked him to load the bases. Freese homered on a 3-2 pitch into the right-center bleachers.
Steven Brault was called in relief and finished the inning without any further scoring.
Feliz, part of the return from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade, had appeared in 11 games this season, allowing eight hits, eight walks and seven runs (six earned). He compiled an ERA of 4.63 with a 2-0 record.
He was a starter early in his pro career with the Astros, compiling a total of 71 starts in six minor league seasons.
The Pirates exhausted their three-man supply of starters this week by using Joe Musgrove on Sunday, Chris Archer on Tuesday and Jordan Lyles on Thursday. Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams are on the injured list.
Hurdle said Feliz’s name emerged when the team initially considered using an opener.
“He’s started in the past. He has also shown the ability to get some swing and miss, and this is a very dynamic (Dodgers) lineup,” Hurdle said before the game.
Of the eight pitchers in the Pirates bullpen, late-inning and high-leverage relievers Felipe Vazquez, Francisco Liriano and Kyle Crick probably were eliminated early-on as opener possibilities. Nick Kingham, Brault and Montana DuRapau have not pitched well recently. Chris Stratton might have been a thought, but he threw 44 pitches Tuesday.
“There are a number of things you take into consideration,” Hurdle said. “Who’s been eliminated. Who’s not an option. Where do you need to keep certain people in play, based on the value they’ve already brought and can bring.
“We just thought it would be a good opportunity for us to see what (Feliz) could bring to the role,” Hurdle said.
Musgrove and Archer are scheduled to pitch Saturday and Sunday against the Dodgers. But the Pirates will need two starters Monday for a doubleheader in Cincinnati.