Mejía's strong D-backs debut isn't enough

Right-hander logs 7 strikeouts, 1st MLB hit, but bullpen labors against Bucs

August 24th, 2021

The D-backs’ bullpen had a rough night on Monday night at PNC Park. Taylor Clarke and Joe Mantiply were unable to hold a three-run lead in the seventh inning as the Pirates won the series opener, 6-5.

Arizona let a 5-2 lead slip away, then the nightmare reached its zenith in the bottom of the eighth inning. Right-hander Noé Ramirez had a problem throwing strikes and walked the bases loaded.

“Mechanically, he is a little off,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He missed a little time due to COVID, and since his return, he hasn’t got himself back in sync. That's what coaches are for. We are going to go out there tomorrow and teach him the best way we can and get a feel for where he is at.”

Ramirez left the game in favor of righty Jake Faria. He was able to get Ke’Bryan Hayes to ground out, but Kevin Newman scored on the play to give the Pirates a one-run lead.

“The back end of our bullpen needs to be better. They will be the first group to tell you that,” Lovullo said. “They are extremely accountable. We didn’t get it done on that back side. We have to find a way to improve.”

The bullpen problems started in the seventh when Clarke yielded a pinch-hit homer to Yoshi Tsutsugo to make it a 5-3 game.

Three batters later, Bryan Reynolds tripled to right-center field against Mantiply, scoring Hayes. Colin Moran followed and hit a grounder to third baseman Asdrubul Cabrera, who made a throwing error to Christian Walker, which allowed Reynolds to score the tying run.

The bullpen spoiled a nice outing by right-hander Humberto Mejía, who made a good impression in his D-backs debut.

Mejía, who came to Arizona in a four-player trade that sent Starling Marte to Miami last year, allowed two runs on six hits and two walks and struck out seven batters over five innings. His outing was cut short due to having thrown a combined 48 pitches in the second and third. He found himself in too many 3-2 counts in those frames.

“At times, I was trying to be too perfect, throw the perfect pitch,” Mejía said through interpreter Alex Arpiza. “Later on, I realized I need to attack the batters and not try to be perfect every time.”

Mejía’s best inning was the fourth, when he retired the side in order.

“He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Lovullo said. “I know it’s his second opportunity to pitch at the big-league level. But he was composed. He followed the game plan, made pitches when he had to.”

Mejía, making his fourth career start, was happy to get his second opportunity in the big leagues. The first one came last year with the Marlins. Mejía said he wasn’t nervous in his first game with the D-backs. It helped that he played in the Majors last year, when there were no fans in the stands due to the pandemic.

After the 2020 season, he vowed that he was going to focus on the catcher whenever he was on the mound.

“I felt very positive the way things went today. I accumulated a lot of strikes,” Mejía said. “... Last year, I made a big leap. I went from Single-A to the big leagues. I was probably a little younger last year. This year, I came in more focused. I was focused on the catcher and myself, and tried to pitch a good game.”

Mejía even helped himself with the bat in the fifth inning. With the score tied at 1, he hit a leadoff double to left-center field off Pirates starter Wil Crowe for his first MLB hit. Mejía later scored on a single by Ketel Marte in a four-run frame.

“As everyone knows, we all start off as hitters. I played third base as a kid and I was very happy to get my first hit,” Mejía said.

Four batters later, Walker cleared the bases with a three-run single off the right-center-field wall to make it a 5-1 game.