PITTSBURGH -- Last September, Clayton Richard re-upped for two more seasons in San Diego. While the Padres waited on their horde of top pitching prospects to arrive, they needed an innings-eater and a veteran presence in their clubhouse to help nurture a young staff. They figured Richard was their guy.It
PITTSBURGH -- Last September, Clayton Richard re-upped for two more seasons in San Diego. While the Padres waited on their horde of top pitching prospects to arrive, they needed an innings-eater and a veteran presence in their clubhouse to help nurture a young staff. They figured Richard was their guy.
It sure seems like a sound investment.
Richard was spectacular on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, working 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball in a 6-2 Padres victory. He held the Pirates scoreless for seven frames, using just 67 pitches to do so. Richard unraveled a bit in the eighth, but it didn't detract from his sinkerballing clinic. Of the 22 outs he recorded, 15 came via the ground ball.
"That's my game," Richard said. "My ball has action down, so I'm going to utilize that the best I can, keeping the ball down in the zone and trying to maximize the amount of balls put in play on the ground."
It marked the third consecutive bullpen-saving effort for Richard, who notched back-to-back eight-inning outings during the Padres' last homestand. He became the first San Diego pitcher since Thomas Pomeranz in 2016 to throw at least seven innings in three consecutive starts.
"It was just executed pitch after executed pitch," Padres manager Andy Green said.
Richard's offense staked him to a three-run lead before he even took the mound on Saturday evening, as Franchy Cordero, Jose Pirela and Christian Villanueva hit consecutive doubles against Pirates starter Nick Kingham in the first. That was the only offense for either side until Villanueva mashed his 11th homer of the year into the left-field seats in the eighth.
The Pirates pulled within two runs in the eighth inning, but right-hander Craig Stammen stranded the tying runs in scoring position. Cory Spangenberg's pinch-hit homer in a two-run ninth helped put the game out of reach once again.
As for Richard, it was the latest effort in a resurgent month. On May 2 in San Francisco, his ERA ballooned to 6.21. In three outings since, he's notched a 2.70 mark while eating 23 1/3 innings over three starts.
"When the first month of the season didn't go well, it's easy to continue to trust him," Green said. "Because you know he's going to grind relentlessly, you know he's going to find it, you know he's going to give you a lot of innings.
"It's easy to trust a guy that's been resilient his whole career. For [rookies] Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi to see this guy had a 6 or 7 ERA the first month of the season, but he turned it around, that's a great message for young pitchers. And to see it lived out in front of them is a lot better than me telling them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Double trouble:Eric Hosmer worked a one-out walk in the first inning, before the Padres' string of three successive doubles. The hit probabilities on those doubles -- 56, 56 and 42 percent, respectively -- indicated some luck with their placement. But all three came on inside fastballs that the Padres' hitters snuck just inside the foul line. Cordero, Pirela and Villanueva did an excellent job of keeping them fair.
Stammen survives: Stammen is the Padres' resident escape artist, and he worked his way out of a sticky spot on Saturday. The veteran right-hander allowed a double to Sean Rodriguez, which gave the Pirates two men in scoring position in a 4-2 game in the eighth. Stammen responded by striking out Jose Osuna before getting Francisco Cervelli to pop out to left field, ending the threat.
Richard came two outs shy of becoming the first Padres pitcher in 15 years to record three consecutive starts of eight innings or more. Right-hander Brian Lawrence was the last to do so. No doubt, Richard's performance on Saturday would've made Randy Jones proud. The legendary Padres left-hander was known for his quick work and his ground-ball heavy style. For Jones, three consecutive starts of at least eight innings was no biggie. He did it 12 times -- easily a Padres record.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Travis Jankowski went 3-for-5 at the plate, and he put his stamp on the game with two outs in the ninth. Jankowski got a perfect break on a line drive from Padres third baseman David Freese and made an all-out diving catch. The play featured a 25 percent catch probability -- five stars, according to Statcast™.
HE SAID IT
"It's strike one. He's coming after you. He's sinking the ball away, the changeup, the little spin pitch. Then he's shoving it inside to the glove side. Getting behind probably isn't in your best interest." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Richard
Jordan Lyles flirted with perfection in his last time out, retiring the first 22 Rockies hitters he faced on Tuesday in San Diego. His encore performance comes Sunday in Pittsburgh with first pitch slated for 10:35 a.m. PT. The Bucs will counter with right-hander Trevor Williams.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.