Steven Brault’s solid start not enough in Pirates’ 4-3 loss to Brewers
On most occasions, Clint Hurdle doesn’t say much when he walks to the mound to pull his pitcher from the game.
But he had words for Steven Brault on Tuesday night while the Pittsburgh Pirates were losing 4-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park.
Good words. “Light-hearted,” Brault said.
It was Brault’s first game since spending a month on the injured list with a shoulder strain. He retired the first 12 batters, struck out six in 5⅓ innings but allowed two runs in the fifth and a one-out infield single in the sixth.
No matter. Here comes Hurdle. Good-bye, Brault.
“He knew I was going to be upset, and I was,” said Brault, who threw 86 pitches with what Hurdle called “above average” fastball command.
When Hurdle reached the mound, he smiled at Brault and explained why he was yanking him.
“’First start back, we’re going to keep you on a little bit of a pitch count,’ ” Brault said, relying the conversation. ”’This isn’t on you. Good job tonight.’
“I didn’t want to come out, obviously.”
Next time, the situation might be different, and Hurdle might give Brault a longer leash. Pirates management will continue to take a long look at Brault as a starter after a desperate need surfaced in the rotation this year. Brault is more than willing.
“That’s been my goal this entire time,” he said. “Last year, I was a bullpen pitcher the entire year. But at no point did I think that was where my career was going to continue. That’s never what I wanted to do.
“I’ve always wanted to be a starter. I’m going to keep doing what I can to try to make it look in their eyes that I should be in this rotation going forward. This is where I want to be. I feel good where I’m at.”
Opponents have scored more than two earned runs against Brault only once in his past eight starts.
“Because I was able to completely get back on from where I left off before I got hurt, I think is a big sign that I’m ready to go and I want to keep doing it,” he said.
Said Hurdle: “There was a lot to like.”
Brault had reason to feel good about himself, but the Pirates’ losing ways continued. They have lost four in a row and 20 of 24 since the All-Star break. The Pirates (48-65) stand 13 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs and 6 ½ behind the fourth-place Cincinnati Reds.
“Since the break, we’ve been bad. That’s the only way you can put it,” Brault said. “And not just bad. There are so many one-run games (seven of the 20 losses), so many games where they get away at the end.
“I keep saying we’re not going to finish out this way.”
The Pirates had opportunities but were unable to finish rallies.
With the score tied 2-2 in the seventh inning, losing pitcher Francisco Liriano loaded the bases and surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly by Orlando Arcia.
In the ninth, the Pirates had the Brewers’ Trent Grisham caught in a rundown between third and home. But catcher Elias Diaz was called for impeding the runner, and a big out turned into a bigger run and a 4-2 Brewers lead.
“I threw the ball over to (third baseman Colin) Moran, and I still felt like I had time for him to throw it right back at me,” Diaz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “He didn’t, and then right away they called interference on me. I didn’t think I was in the way.”
Hurdle agreed with the call by home plate umpire Joe West.
“Once Elias let go of the ball, he stayed in the baseline,” Hurdle said. “You don’t have to have contact with the runner. It’s called impeding the runner. Once you make that throw, you have to get out of the way.”
The play turned out to be decisive when the Pirates scored a run in the ninth on a single by Diaz and Pablo Reyes’ double. But after Erik Gonzalez bunted on his own to move Reyes to third with one out, Melky Cabrera grounded out to first, and pinch-hitter Kevin Newman lined out weakly to pitcher Matt Albers.
“I wanted to take one shot at (the bunt),” Hurdle said, “then let him swing the bat and see what would happen.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .