PITTSBURGH – The bright spots have been few for the Pittsburgh Pirates since the All-Star break.
The Pirates have gone 10-29 in the second half, dropping their overall record to 49-82. The Pirates must go 14-17 just to avoid a second consecutive 100-loss season.
However, Roansy Contreras gives the Pirates and their fans some reason to be optimistic when he takes the mound every fifth day.
The rookie right-hander was outstanding Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays at PNC Park. Contreras held the Blue Jays, who lead the major leagues in runs scored on the road, to only one run in six innings.
Yet Contreras came away with a no-decision as Bo Bichette’s three-run double in the seventh inning off Duane Underwood Jr. snapped a 1-1 tie and lifted the Blue Jays to a 4-1 victory. The loss was the Pirates’ 11th in their last 13 games.
The Blue Jays managed just four hits off Contreras, who struck out five and walked two.
“He’s done a really good job of executing and using his pitches,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He used all three of them again tonight. He was extremely effective. That’s a good lineup. They make you grind. We saw it last night and we saw it tonight, they foul off a ton of pitches. He pitched really well.”
Contreras, though, continues to show that he is not intimidated by big league hitters.
“From the beginning, I try not to focus too much on the lineup and the caliber of lineup they are,” Contreras said. “I do respect and recognize it, but I just try to go out there, trying to execute pitches and make sure that I’m attacking the zone and sticking to the plan.”
Contreras has a 1-2 record in four starts since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis last month, but his ERA is a fine 2.63. Perhaps the most impressive part of Contreras’ run is that he is averaging six innings per start and worked at least five innings in each outing.
“Focusing on just throwing less pitches by trying to get ground balls, get some popups, and I feel like that’s what’s been giving me a lot better results,” Contreras said.
One of the residual effects of closer David Bednar being on the injured list is that it has created a chain reaction throughout the bullpen. Pirates relievers have had their roles changed and many are now pitching in higher-leverage spots than before Bednar hurt his back.
That bit the Pirates again Saturday night when Shelton brought Underwood in to start the seventh inning in relief of Contreras. Underwood is much better suited for middle relief than set-up duty and that was proven again.
Underwood had a rough outing, walking two batters and throwing a wild pitch before Bichette’s double broke a 1-1 tie. Underwood threw 37 pitches to just six batters – an astounding 6.1 a hitter – and recorded just two outs. Bichette’s hit came on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.
“That’s his lane,” Shelton said of Underwood pitching the seventh. “We’ve got to avoid the two walks. He’s got to execute pitches. The Bichette at-bat was a heck of an at-bat, but Duane’s just got to execute pitches.”
ANOTHER E FOR CRUZ
Rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz now has 10 errors in 57 games this season. That comes after he was charged with 14 errors in 44 games at Indianapolis.
Mr. Statcast’s latest miscue was a low throw to first base on Teoscar Herandez’s groundball in the fifth inning. While Cruz’s arm is the strongest of any infielder in the major leagues, throwing accuracy continues to be an issue. He double clutched on his error Saturday.
“I think on that one right there, the ball got stuck in his glove and when he reached in, he didn’t grab it and he had to go back in there to grab it,” Shelton said. “Caused the double clutch.”