Bob Smizik: Thank you, Minnesota Twins

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Despite a 3-for-3 performance by the absolutely amazing Josh Harrison and despite a three-hit night by the resurgent Gregory Polanco and despite the fact the Pirates’ 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres left them with a stellar 13-7 second-half record, the biggest story of the night -- as well as one of the biggest of the MLB season -- was the pitching of Vance Worley.

Given up for next-to-nothing by the Minnesota Twins, Worley, 26, has found new life with the Pirates. He hasn't been just a good pitcher, his numbers rank him as one of the best in the National League. What makes his story even sweeter is he's under Pirates control for three more season.

Worley pitched seven innings last night at PNC Park, allowing one run on five hits while walking one and striking out seven. As a starter for the Pirates -- excluding a two-inning relief stint on the Sunday before the All-Star break -- his ERA stands at 2.08, his WHIP at 1.04.

How good is that? Among National League starters who have thrown 60 or more innings, Worley is third. The pitchers in front of him are Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto. Right behind him is Adam Wainwright. Pretty fancy company! Worley’s WHIP is sixth among NL starters.

Who would have believed it? Certainly not the Twins, who were glad to unload Worley in late March for cash, after he pitched 10 2/3 innings in spring training and allowed 22 hits while compiling a 13.50 ERA. The Pirates sent Worley to Indianapolis, where he was OK -- 4.30 ERA and a .264 BAA. Who knew?

Worley gave up a first-inning run to the Padres on a double, a sacrifice and a sacrifice fly. The Pirates got that back plus one when Harrison tripled and scored on Polanco’s single. Polanco stole second, went to third on a throwing error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ike Davis.

That was it for the Pirates. Worley did the rest with some major help from his defense, which turned two critical double plays -- one with first and second and no outs in the second and the other with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth.

The win moved the Pirates ahead of St. Louis and into second-place in the NL Central, 1 1/2 games behind Milwaukee, which also won.

Much has been made of the Pirates soft schedule in the second half and there’s truth to that. But they also are 4-2 against San Francisco and Los Angeles during this stretch.

They played again last night without Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker and there’s no indication of when those players will return.

• • •

• In off-the-field news, Pedro Alvarez was activated from the bereavement list and to make room reliever Ernesto Frieri, acquired in late June for Jason Grilli, was designated for assignment. Frieri had a 10.13 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP with the Pirates. The Pirates will owe Frieri about $1.2 million, if he is not pick up, which is unlikely.

• Alvarez pinch hit for Worley in the seventh and popped up. He did some work at first base before the game with infield coach Nick Leyva and Gaby Sanchez. General manager Neal Huntington did not rule out the possibility that he could be used at that position some time this season.

• The Pirates are a man short in the bullpen and will probably stay that way until either Walker or McCutchen is ready to play -- or goes on the disabled list.

• Since July 27, a 12-game stretch, Harrison is batting .462 (24-for-52) with a slugging percentage over .900 and a OPS of around 1.400. He has five home runs and has scored 14 runs. He was playing third base last night and started both double plays that took Worley out of jams.

• Polanco is batting .406 (13-for-32) since July 31 with an OPS close to 1.000. His numbers are not as flashy as Harrison’s but they are more remarkable because he floundered badly for most of July and it looked like National League pitchers had figured him out.

• Tony Watson and Mark Melancon pitched the eighth and ninth without a baserunner. Melancon struck out the side.


First Published August 9, 2014 12:00 AM

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