Bob Smizik: Pirates collapse, lose to Reds, 6-5

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Where to begin with this latest Pirates’ loss, 6-5 to the Cincinnati Reds, which was a crushing defeat in a game that seemed an almost-certain win?

• The throwing error by Pedro Alvarez?

• The meltdown of Tony Watson?

• The continuing anemic offense from the team’s first basemen?

Let’s start first with Alvarez, who hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning, but whose seventh-inning error, his 19th of the season, allowed the Reds to get back in the game with two unearned runs, after having been down, 5-1.

This throw wasn’t as bad as the historically bad toss he made Sunday at PNC Park, when he sailed the ball nowhere close to first base and well into the stands. This one, by contrast, barely made the stands and actually was in the same zip code as first base. But this two-base error was followed by a double, a single and a run-scoring infield out and the Reds were back in the game.

With his fielding miscues showing no signs of decline, manager Clint Hurdle has taken, quite understandably, to replacing Alvarez in the late innings. What’s the next step? Based on his prodigious home run, it seems out of the question to take Alvarez out of the lineup. Maybe switching him to first base, once considered a bad idea, is a two-pronged answer.

It would mostly take throwing away from the wildly errant Alvarez and considerably increase production at first base.

It’s hard to get angry with Watson. He’s been one of the Pirates‘‍ best players this season. He was due for a bad one. And it happened. A home run and four consecutive singles turned a two-run lead into a one-run deficit and defeat.

In his previous six appearances, six innings, Watson allowed no runs, one hit and one walk. The only sign of anything possibly being awry with Watson is that in his last 5⅔ innings his K/9 rate is 1.59. Prior to that it was 11.48.

Pirates first baseman were hitless in four at-bats last night, including a strikeout with the bases loaded in the eighth by Ike Davis. When Davis was announced as a pinch-hitter for Gaby Sanchez, Reds manager Bryan Price didn’t even bother to counter with a left-handed pitcher. He allowed right-hander Curtis Partch, a recent minor-league recall, to go at the lefty-swinging Davis. Partch struck him out on five pitches.

This is what the Pirates have received from their first baseman since June 1:

Davis is batting .181 in 94 at bats with one homer and 11 RBIs.

Sanchez is batting .173 in 52 at bats with no homers and two RBIs.

Black hole does not begin to describe the Pirates’‍ first-base situation.

The National League Central Division took on a whole new look Thursday night when the Cardinals lost catcher Yadier Molina, their Andrew McCutchen, possibly for the season, and the Reds put second baseman Brandon Phillips on the disabled list, where he joined Joey Votto. The injuries seemed to swing the balance of power in the division to the Brewers and the Pirates.

But both teams lost last night after taking big early leads.

The Pirates are still very much in postseason contention. But they have to find a way to fix the throwing problems of Alvarez, no easy task. And, even harder, they have to find a first baseman.

First Published July 12, 2014 12:00 AM

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