Pirates shut down by Astros, 3-1, in fourth consecutive loss
August 22, 2016 11:18 PM
Pirates' Josh Bell tries to come up with a double hit by Astros' Jason Castro in the fifth inning Monday night at PNC Park.
Pirates' David Freese throws to first base on a hit by Astros' Jake Marisnick in the fifth inning Monday night at PNC Park.
Pirates' Jameson Taillon pitches against the Astros Monday night at PNC Park.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Before Jameson Taillon’s final two starts for Class AAA Indianapolis earlier this summer, the Pirates presented him with some information. Assistant general manager Kyle Stark, pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell and Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles extolled the virtues of the two-seam fastball, which, at that point, represented 10 to 20 percent of Taillon’s heaters.
Taillon got more swings and misses with the two-seam fastball. Throwing the pitch helped his efficiency and produced ground balls.
“Why don’t you try it out, see how it works,” they suggested to him.
The fruits of that conversation are evident when Taillon takes the mound. As is becoming the norm these days, Taillon did his part, but, for the fourth consecutive game, the lineup faltered. Doug Fister and the Houston Astros sent the Pirates to their fourth consecutive loss, 3-1, at PNC Park Monday night. In their past 29 innings, they have scored four runs.
“We just have to stay consistent, more consistent, and keep fighting as a team,” said Gregory Polanco, who had two of the Pirates’ five hits, both doubles.
In a game where the Pirates desperately required offense, they ran themselves out of the final inning. Polanco doubled against Astros closer Ken Giles with two outs in the ninth. David Freese grounded a ball to third that Alex Bregman threw away, which let Polanco score. Freese tried for second, but was easily thrown out, ending the game with Josh Bell, the tying run, on deck.
“You can’t be out there at second base. You’re two runs down,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That probably was some emotional baserunning. At the end of the day, we needed to get Bell the at-bat.”
Since returning from the disabled list July 19, Taillon has a 2.35 ERA in seven starts. He struck out 39 batters in 46 innings during that span —including a career-high eight Monday — while walking only five. He pitched six or more innings in each of those starts and eight in two of them. He credits the two-seam fastball, which moves down and in to right-handers and which now makes up 60 to 70 percent of his fastball usage, in part for the performance.
“Just realizing that my stuff plays,” Taillon said. “I learned that early on my first couple starts.”
Monday, he allowed two runs, courtesy of Teoscar Hernandez’s fifth-inning homer, in eight innings of work.
The fact that Taillon has proven himself to be reliable in his rookie year bodes well for the Pirates rotation, which ranks second in the National League in ERA since the All-Star break. Out, over the course of the summer, went Juan Nicasio, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese and Jeff Locke; in came Taillon, Ryan Vogelsong, Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl.
Taillon was born in Florida, but grew up in the Woodlands, Texas, about half an hour north of Houston. The roster has changed from the team he grew up watching, which featured Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman, but he still lives in the area during the offseason and has seen the franchise’s resurgence.
“I’ve kind of been admiring [Jose] Altuve from afar for a while,” he said. “I see the billboards in Houston, I see what he’s done for the city. I see that they’ve revived baseball, their rebuilding process was pretty quick over there. He was a big part of it. I think that’s pretty cool.”
After failing to solve Fister (12-8), the Pirates are 3½ games out in the wild-card standings. Fister allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings. Just like Miami’s David Phelps and Jose Urena Saturday and Sunday, Fister stifled the recently lackluster offense. The hitters will get to work tonight against rookie Joe Musgrove, making his fourth major league start.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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