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Bullpen Game Turns Ugly for Pirates; Might Not Get Redemption Anytime Soon

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Carmen Mlodzinski, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — With a short-handed starting rotation, the Pittsburgh Pirates once again went with a bullpen game on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Pirates have had success using bullpen games as they navigate several injuries to the starting rotation. Last Friday, the Pirates defeated the Rockies in Colorado 5-2 thanks in part to five strong innings from Luis Ortiz after Carmen Mlodzinski opened the game on the mound.

On June 8 at PNC Park, the Pirates blanked the Minnesota Twins 4-0. Ortiz again did the heavy lifting in relief of Mlodzinski.

The Pirates tried to follow the same recipe again against the Rays at PNC Park, only this time the end product was not what they had gotten used to seeing.

Tampa Bay’s offense erupted for 17 hits and 10 runs against a quartet of Pirates’ pitchers in what ended up a 10-3 loss for Pittsburgh. The 17 hits are the most the Pirates have allowed in a game this season.

Mlodzinski took the loss after allowing a run in the second inning. Ortiz was pummeled for six runs on 10 hits in four innings.

The Rays used a mixture of bloop hits and hard contact to get to Ortiz, leading to the struggles that had not been seen over his past few outings.

“I mean, Lowe hit the homer off him but they put the ball in play,” manager Derek Shelton said of Ortiz’s outing. “There wasn’t a ton of hard contact, even with Carmen. There was not a lot of hard contact. Then, ultimately, the command wasn’t what we’ve seen over the last couple outings.”

Josh Fleming retired the only batter he faced. Daulton Jefferies made his Pirates’ debut and was sharp in the seventh and eighth innings before allowing a three-run home run to Ben Rortvedt in the ninth.

What had worked so well on two other occasions this month could not be replicated a third time.

It might be a little while before the Pirates have a chance for redemption in a bullpen game. Three Pirates’ starting pitchers currently on the injured list are all getting closer to returning to the mound.

If all goes well, it looks like Martín Pérez will be the first one back in the Pirates’ rotation and it could come next week.

Pérez, who has missed nearly a month with a groin strain, is set to pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday night on a rehab assignment. Though the Pirates haven’t definitively said if the veteran left-hander will only need one rehab start, he could conceivably make his return during the Pirates’ upcoming road trip.

Prior to his injury, Pérez made 11 starts with the Pirates and went 1-3 with a 4.71 ERA. While the numbers aren’t earth-shattering, the 33-year-old offered some reliable innings when he was healthy.

Getting Pérez back in short-order will help provide the Pirates’ pitching staff with more stability. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a full rotation over the last couple weeks.

Though Pérez’s return appears to be the most imminent, he’s not the only reinforcement on track to rejoin the Pirates in the coming weeks.

Quinn Priester, who is on the IL with a right lat injury, threw a live bullpen with Indianapolis and is on track to begin a rehab assignment next week. Fellow injured starter Marco Gonzales (forearm) threw a live batting practice at PNC Park on Friday. He’s seemingly the furthest away from returning of the three.

But with Pérez gearing up with a return and two others in line to follow him, the Pirates could be done with bullpen games for a while. That’s probably for the best.

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