SEATTLE -- Clint Hurdle and Jeff Branson were frustrated. Jonathon Niese was frustrated. The Pittsburgh Pirates were frustrated.Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to the Mariners in the opening game of this West Coast trip was another example of a Pittsburgh team that can't seem to get things rolling in 2016. For
SEATTLE -- Clint Hurdle and Jeff Branson were frustrated. Jonathon Niese was frustrated. The Pittsburgh Pirates were frustrated.
Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to the Mariners in the opening game of this West Coast trip was another example of a Pittsburgh team that can't seem to get things rolling in 2016. For every positive development, there was a setback. For every bit of momentum going in their favor, there was a pit stop.
The obvious literal instance of very public exasperation on Tuesday came in the top of the fifth inning after Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma dropped a 71-mph curveball in on Pirates hitter Matt Joyce for a called first strike by home-plate umpire Ben May.
Not long after the ball hit the glove of Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta, May looked over at the Pirates dugout and gave hitting coach Branson a quick heave-ho. That got Pittsburgh manager Hurdle onto the field, and after he jawed with May for a few moments, he was gone, too.
"He threw Branson," Hurdle said. "I didn't think it was warranted, so once he threw him, I just went out and let him know that this was a little continuation of what we've been dealing with too much. Too many short at-bats for us. That was basically the gist of the conversation."
When asked what he meant by "short at-bats," Hurdle explained further.
"Number of strikes," Hurdle said. "I don't think we're getting three."
On the other side of Tuesday's coin, Hurdle's starting pitcher, Niese, wasn't throwing enough quality strikes. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on nine hits while striking out two and walking two. It was the shortest outing of the year for Niese, who has given up 21 earned runs in his last 21 1/3 innings as his season ERA has climbed to 5.07.
"I left mistakes over the plate," Niese said. "Everything was flat. … I didn't get away with anything. I have to keep the ball down more, get that downhill action. Right now, my stuff's just flat. I'm going to keep working at it, and the results will change."
The Pirates hope for much of the same all over their roster. They have now gone 9-22 since being a season-high nine games over .500 after beating Texas on May 27.
But there were some positive signs on Tuesday, at least.
Outfielder Gregory Polanco came back to the lineup at the designated hitter spot and continued his breakout season, going 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. He's batting .435 with five RBIs over his last eight games. Starling Marte tripled and drove in a run. Andrew McCutchen made a highlight-reel catch in center field.
The Pirates didn't give up late in the game when they were down, 5-0, scoring twice in the seventh inning to chase Iwakuma.
And reliever Arquimedes Caminero looked electric at times, hitting 99 mph on the radar gun while pitching a season-high 2 1/3 innings of scoreless ball and striking out four batters.
"Caminero gave us needed innings tonight. There's no doubt about that," Hurdle said. "He's been working. His last two outings have been much better, much more efficient. Better location down, so that was good to see as well."
But things still aren't clicking for Pittsburgh. Hurdle said the team will continue to grind, continue to seek the answers to what is ailing them of late. And while he might have been talking about the umpiring when he made his closing statement to reporters after this loss that dropped his team to 37-41, he could have been talking about the Pirates' struggles in 2016 in general.
"That's part of the game," Hurdle said. "It's always been there and probably always will be there. You just don't have to like it. And sometimes you've got to let people know that you don't like it."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.