By Chad Carlson
|Photo Credit: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review
Fresh off their first true day off of the Spring Training season, the Pirates returned to action against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field today. The Buccos have been on a bit of a skid lately, with inconsistent pitching and missed opportunities occupying most the responsibility. These are certainly two areas that have plagued the team for years, and it seems to be the case over the past week or so in the Grapefruit League.
Unfortunately, the struggles continued for the Pirates today, as the Blue Jays had a big three-run fourth inning, which proved to be the difference as they topped our Buccos 5-3.
Paul Maholm, who is thought to be one of the leading candidates for the Opening Day starter, took to the mound this afternoon. He didn’t get off to a great start, and his day didn’t get any better through his five innings of work.
Edwin Encarnacion hammered a pitch off Maholm in the first inning for a solo homer, giving
the early lead. Then in the fourth, the Blue Jays exploded with three runs to take control of the game. Toronto
Jose Molina smacked an RBI single, scoring Eric Thames. Then David Cooper blasted a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right field for a two-run homerun. Cooper had three hits for the Blue Jays, who improved their Grapefruit League record to 9-9.
Maholm’s final line was less than what should be expected from the top of the rotation, giving up four runs on five hits, while walking two batters. Paul dropped to 0-2 on the season and his ERA sits at 5.14.
The Pirates certainly had their opportunities to put some more runs on the board against Blue Jays’ starter Kyle Drabek this afternoon. The team accumulated a total of 11 hits, including two from Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen, as well as a pair of knocks from Ronny Cedeno. McCutchen’s strong game increased his Spring Training batting average to .382. Unfortunately, the Pirates left too many runners on base and couldn’t put together a big inning similar to what
did in the fourth frame. Toronto
Neil Walker had a solo homerun in the first inning, while Garrett Jones tallied two RBI’s on the afternoon in a losing effort. Both Joel Hanrahan and Chris Resop pitched a strong inning each today, while Jose Veras wasn’t as impressive, giving up a run on two hits and walking a batter as he worked the eighth inning.
With the loss this afternoon, the Pirates have fallen to 8-12 this spring. While it is uplifting to see the likes of McCutchen and Tabata already finding their rhythm at the plate, it’s more frustrating to see Maholm give up that many runs in a pretty short stint today.
As we all know, starting pitching is going to be a key to how the season goes for the Pirates. While our bats are improving and will be better than previous years, we, as fans, cannot expect the offense to overcome multi-run deficits after giving up an early lead in the first handful of innings. The best chance this team has for success is to stay close the entire game. So far this spring, the Pirates have done that. Hopefully they can continue to find their rhythm at the plate, and the pitching staff can hit their stride, as a unit, just in time for the regular season to begin.
The Pirates will host the Baltimore Orioles at McKechnie Field tomorrow afternoon. Ross Ohlendorf will make the start, with hopes of pitching the maximum five innings. Joe Beimel and Scott Olsen are both scheduled to throw for the Buccos as well.
Let’s Go Bucs!