Top of order leads Pirates to win over Nationals
Has Clint Hurdle finally found a lineup incarnation that he will stick with? Can his newest batting order shake the Pirates from their slump?
For one day, at least, it worked.
Monday, the all-outfielder top third of the lineup combined to reach base seven times and both score and drive in five runs during the Pirates’ 6-3 series-opening victory against the Washington Nationals.
“Played out well,” Hurdle said afterward. “All three of them, they can make some things happen — they sure did tonight coming out of the chute. So we will probably re-visit it tomorrow.”
Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco combined to hit for the cycle before the end of the second inning: Polanco’s two-run single in the first drove in Dickerson and Marte, who had doubled, and Polanco’s homer to right in the second came with Dickerson aboard after he had tripled in Max Moroff. Cleanup hitter Colin Moran doubled two pitches after Polanco’s first-inning single, scoring him.
On whole, all the Pirates’ production came in the first two innings: three runs apiece in the first and second off rookie Jefry Rodriguez, who was making his third career MLB start.
Polanco homered and went 2 for 3 with a walk to continue his torrid pace; he has reached base in 34 of his past 69 plate appearances. Polanco has a .714 slugging percentage and .493 on-base percentage over that span, good for a 1.207 OPS.
“You look at his work the last 19… games now, and he’s putting it out on the field and putting it in the box,” Hurdle said. “He’s got himself to a convicted place in the box. … He’s hitting the ball hard where he’s pitched. It’s fun to watch him when he’s rolling like this.”
Dickerson, too. He extended his hitting streak to five games with two hits, two runs and an RBI while batting leadoff for the first time this season. Marte — who has hit third in the order more often than any player has hit anywhere for the Pirates this season — batted second, and Polanco hit third for the eighth time this season.
“I liked the left-right-left split at the top like that,” Hurdle said. “We will see where it can take us.”
The Pirates have won two in a row after a season high-tying five-game losing streak.
Ivan Nova was responsible for the second of those defeats when he surrendered a franchise-record five home runs July 3 at Dodger Stadium. But the seven runs he gave up in that game were fewer than the season-worst eight he allowed in his only other outing this year against the Nationals (May 2).
Nova was again stung by the long ball Monday. Two of the three hardest-hit balls of the evening were clubbed by two young sluggers: Juan Soto pulled a 3-2 Nova fastball 108.5 mph into the elevated right-field seats on a line drive with two outs in the fifth.
In the sixth, Bryce Harper turned on a similar 94-mph, 3-2 Nova four-seamer, but he hit it even harder: a 109.2-mph exit velocity smacked so hard off the batter’s eye in straightaway center that Marte didn’t even move.
“Those two big lefties put good swings on balls and hit two homers, not happy there,” Nova said, “but other than that it felt like a good game, especially after the disaster that I pitched against them in Washington.”
The Pirates bullpen was dominant for the second day in a row. Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana and Felipe Vazquez combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. The only baserunners Washington managed against them came in the ninth against Vazquez; Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters each singled to put the tying run at the plate.
But Vazquez recovered by inducing pinch hitter Mark Reynolds into a game-ending double play, eliciting a cheer from 14,073. The cheers were perhaps matched by one in the sixth inning following a benches- and bullpens–clearing situation that evolved after Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli shared words at home plate with Adam Eaton.
“He was fighting with the umpire; I had nothing to do with it,” Cervelli said. “I do my job. I’ve got to catch pitches and frame pitches. That’s my job, so I have nothing to do with what he was angry (about).”
Eaton explained he was upset with home-plate umpire Gabe Morales both for some of his calls and because he stepped away from the plate, drawing attention to he and Cervelli.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.