PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to fall further and further out of a potential playoff spot and under .500 on the season.
It was just last week that the Pirates were atop the division. Now, they reside in fourth-place.
After losing to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates have lost nine-straight games after getting swept in three-straight series against National League Central opponents.
Pittsburgh lost three in a row against the Cubs at Wigley Field last week, before falling in all three games against the Brewers in Milwaukee prior to their most-recent at home.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that it’s only June. There’s still a lot of season to play out and the Pirates, to this point, have the good fortune of playing in mediocre National League Central division.
Rich Hill, baseball’s oldest active player, took the mound for Pittsburgh against the Cubs on Wednesday and pitched relatively well.
Hill gave the Pirates 5.2 innings, allowing five runs but only three of which were earned. That’s what the Pirates can expect on the mound out of Hill. It may not always look pretty, but he’ll keep you in the game more often than not.
“I thought Rich deserved better than he got today,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We gotta cut a ball off down the line and [Ke’Bryan Hayes] makes a very rare error. Yeah, he could have come out of that game with two runs and did a really good job of executing pitches. We didn’t execute on the other side of the ball.”
At 43 years old, Hill is still an effective pitcher. It’s part of the reason the Pirates signed him as a free agent in the offseason.
The other reason is perhaps even more important given the current state of the Pirates. It’s his veteran presence that has been felt all season long.
In times like that, it needs to be felt even more, and Hill will be relied on to be a guy who helps the Pirates get out of this funk.
Hill has been a big leaguer for 19 seasons. He’s been through skids like this and he knows what it will take to break out of it.
“Work. That’s it,” Hill said. “Has that ever changed? That’s really the key identity to winning cultures and winning clubs, that they show up every single day. Failure is necessary in order to show everyone that the work is important. That’s really the key ingredient and to continue to keep pulling for each other…”
Hill is, for lack of better words, like a father in the Pirates’ clubhouse when considering the rest of the Pirates’ roster is largely young.
Because of this, Hill can offer advice, guidance and encouragement as fathers do.
“I think it’s just consistency of keeping guys motivated to continue to fight. That’s the biggest thing. We play with a sense of urgency, and we stay focused in on the pitch-to-pitch process. No matter if a call goes for us or against us. The biggest thing is staying in that pitch-to-pitch process, whether you’re in the box or on the mound. That’s being in the moment,” he said.
If the Pirates want to prove to everyone that the first part of the season wasn’t a mirage, Hill will have a big role in turning things around.
Not only with his performance in a short-handed rotation due to season-ending injuries to several components, but also with the leadership he can provide in the dark times such as this one.
“We just have to keep working and continue to keep putting in the effort every single day. We’ll get out of this. It’s obviously a tough stretch that we’re in. The work doesn’t stop.”