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Agrazal stumbles vs. Mets in series opener

@_dadler
July 26, 2019

NEW YORK -- Dario Agrazal had been so good for the Pirates in his first five big league starts. But one game of growing pains for the 24-year-old rookie right-hander at Citi Field, and the Pirates are battling a six-game losing skid and 2-12 second-half record. Agrazal took a 2.25

NEW YORK -- Dario Agrazal had been so good for the Pirates in his first five big league starts. But one game of growing pains for the 24-year-old rookie right-hander at Citi Field, and the Pirates are battling a six-game losing skid and 2-12 second-half record.

Agrazal took a 2.25 ERA and a string of four straight quality starts into Friday night's road trip opener against the Mets. But a five-run shelling in Pittsburgh's 6-3 loss, in which the right-hander allowed three home runs in 5 1/3 innings, inflated Agrazal's ERA by nearly a full run to 3.24.

Box score

"He's had success out of everything since he's been here right now. We're gonna start picking at things because he gave up some homers?" manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's pitching in the big leagues, too. And the game didn't get away from him."

Agrazal will have time to right the ship. But the Pirates’ time is running out. They've fallen to a season-worst 11 games under .500 at 46-57. Most importantly, each passing loss is pushing them further into sellers territory with the July 31 Trade Deadline now just five days away.

It's especially bad timing that the Pirates lost one of their best trade chips, left fielder Corey Dickerson, to left groin discomfort Friday. Dickerson exited the game in the third inning and was replaced in the field by Melky Cabrera to start the bottom of the inning. Dickerson is being evaluated further.

Pittsburgh got a small bright spot from Josh Bell, who lined a pair of hits off of Zack Wheeler for his first multi-hit game since July 13, ending a season high span of 11 games without one. Adam Frazier also homered and doubled.

Still, the Pirates' power has fizzled in the second half. Frazier is the third different Pirate to homer since the All-Star break, along with Starling Marte (five) and Jung Ho Kang (two). Bell, who slugged 27 home runs in the first half, has yet to homer in the second half.

That lack of pop stands out all the more starkly in the context of this losing stretch. Pirates pitchers have allowed 16 home runs in their last five games -- including 12 in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.

"We've had some challenges keeping the ball in the ballpark," Hurdle said. "It's been a rough stretch from that standpoint."

Hurdle said he doesn't get the sense at all that his team is running out of gas. But their fading in the standings -- only the Marlins have a worse record in the NL -- will force the Pirates to make decisions. The clock is ticking to next Wednesday's Deadline, and they could start pulling the trigger on some moves at any time.

For now, the players are doing all they can. Agrazal, for example, had some positives to take away from the loss. He had a pitch-efficient day -- Hurdle said Agrazal's sinker played well, citing the nine outs that Agrazal recorded on three pitches or less.

"It can be mentally challenging, but I'm also mentally strong," Agrazal said through a translator. "Even though we didn't come out with the victory today, I'm confident in my team. I'm confident that tomorrow will be a different day and a better day."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.