For the third consecutive game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Pirates failed to get more than five innings from their starting pitcher. In spite of the pitching woes, they scored improbable late-inning comeback victories in the first two games of the series.
A third come-from-behind win was not in the cards Sunday afternoon when the Blue Jays rode an early grand slam and a strong pitching performance from Dustin McGowan to a 7-2 victory at PNC Park.
The loss dropped the Pirates (12-19) into last place in the National League Central.
Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano struggled against the Blue Jays lineup Friday and Saturday. Sunday, Edinson Volquez didn’t have much luck, either. He surrendered seven hits, six runs — all earned — and three walks in five innings.
The big blow was the grand slam by Colby Rasmus in the second inning after the Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
“I made the wrong pitch,” Volquez said. “He has a good swing. He had a day. I made a lot of bad pitches. I just want to let it go and make better pitches. I was all over the place, out of rhythm.”
In the fifth, Melky Cabrera hit a two-run home run to stake the Blue Jays to a 6-1 lead.
Volquez (1-3) had been the Pirates’ best starting pitcher for the first month of the season. He gave up just six earned runs in his first five starts. But he has allowed 12 runs in the past two outings. He also gave up six runs in 52⁄3 innings last Sunday in a loss to the Cardinals.
Manager Clint Hurdle is not losing faith in the newest addition to his starting rotation.
“I think you need to look at the six runs he gave up and how he gave them up,” Hurdle said. “To just throw out six runs doesn’t paint an accurate picture. There was a borderline pitch that could have been a called third strike [before Cabrera’s home run]. You have to make pitches, meet the demands of the game. That’s something he’ll continue to work and try to improve.”
After the Friday and Saturday night heroics, the Pirates offense didn’t lend much support to Volquez or the bullpen. Josh Harrison led off the game with a triple and scored on a Neil Walker ground out, but the Pirates had two hits over the next six innings.
Hurdle wasn’t around to watch much of the futility against right-hander McGowan (2-1), who entered the game with a 5.87 ERA. In the bottom of the fourth, after Jordy Mercer struck out looking and stranded two runners, Hurdle and first-base coach Rick Sofield were ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Greg Gibson.
“I thought it was pretty apparent that the low strike wasn’t going to come into play,” Hurdle said. “The fact of the matter was it got to a point where a pitch that hadn’t been called a strike all day got called a strike in a very pivotal at-bat for us.”
The only bright spot for the Pirates was Harrison, who batted leadoff for the second consecutive game, had two of the four hits and scored both runs. He tripled again in the eighth and scored on an Andrew McCutchen sacrifice fly.
In two games in the leadoff spot against the Blue Jays, Harrison was 4 for 9 with four runs scored.
Hurdle, searching for a spark at the top of his order, said Harrison has some traits that make him a viable option moving forward.
“He’s got speed, he can move the ball around, bunt, steal a base,” Hurdle said. “He has a skill set that can play at the top of the lineup.”
Harrison, who made his fourth start of the season, at the very least has given Hurdle something to think about before making his lineup for tonight.
“That’s not up to me,” Harrison said. “I just control what I can control. That’s controlling my attitude and effort and playing hard. Skip makes the lineup every day. If he puts me in there, I’m ready. If not, I’m always ready to go in.”
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published May 4, 2014 4:32 PM