Pirates' meager win streak snapped by Nationals
Joe Musgrove had swing-and-miss stuff in his return from the disabled list.
“That,” Musgrove said late Tuesday night, “was probably the best stuff I had all season.”
It might have been too good, though, to allow Musgrove to pitch deep into the game. Regardless, it wasn’t enough to lift the Pirates to a win.
Musgrove had a career-high nine strikeouts but allowed a two-run homer to Anthony Rendon, and the Pirates’ brief two-game winning streak ended with a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.
Musgrove induced swings-and-misses on an impressive 15 percent of his 96 pitches. But Nationals hitters also fouled 30 pitches off against him, facilitating his early departure in his first start since June 29 because of an infection on his index finger.
Musgrove threw 27 pitches in the first inning, 48 pitches through two and his night was over after five innings despite allowing just three singles (one that didn’t leave the infield), a double and a walk other than the mistake to Rendon.
“Just a frustrating night,” Musgrove said, “to feel as good as I felt and to have to battle and work that hard early in the game and get my pitch count up. It really limited my ability to get later into the game.”
To be fair, Musgrove’s first-pitch, belt-high, middle-of-the-plate 89-mph cutter to the penultimate batter he faced (Rendon) didn’t help his cause. Rendon turned on it for a two-run homer to left that put the Pirates down 2-0 in the fifth.
“Bad pitch,” Musgrove said. “Right down the middle.”
One of the few, though, for him Tuesday. Per Statcast, Musgrove got at least two swinging strikes each on his four-seamer, sinker, slider and changeup. Musgrove induced more swings-and-misses (14) than he did allow balls in play (11).
“What an attack, aggressive, made pitches,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He threw it all out there tonight, no doubt about that.”
Steven Brault, though, couldn’t find the strike zone when he relieved Musgrove. In recording just one out in the sixth, Brault walked three — two on four pitches, two with the bases loaded — in addition to allowing three singles.
“I got behind hitters, threw balls – and the pitches I got over for strikes got hit,” Brault said. “So, pretty simple.”
Not that it mattered much on an evening in which the Pirates offense managed no extra-base hits. It produced seven singles – just two in five innings against Jeremy Hellickson (3-1) and just four that left the infield during the game overall.
Yet seemingly improbably on a night in which the first pitch was delayed by a rainless rain delay (blue skies persisted over the skyline backdrop to PNC Park throughout all 50 minutes of it), the Pirates managed to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth.
But after a single, walk and infield single, pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli struck out swinging on three pitches against Washington closer Kelvin Herrera.
Josh Bell scored the Pirates’ only run, coming around by way of an infield single, wild pitch, error and Max Moroff groundout in the seventh.
But that would be one of only two times a Pirates runner would reach third base. The other was in the third inning, when Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte singled and were balked up a base apiece.
Dickerson, Elias Diaz and Austin Meadows were the only Pirates to reach base twice. Meadows had two infield singles after entering the game as a pinch hitter, and the latter two had a walk and a single.
A bright spot for the Pirates? Their pitchers combined to strike out Bryce Harper four times. The six-time All-star grounded out weakly in his final at-bat in the ninth.