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Lauer takes tough-luck loss in opener vs. Bucs

Lefty goes 7 strong, but Machado mistake leads to game-deciding unearned run
@JakeCrouseMLB
June 21, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- After lasting just 2 2/3 innings and surrendering five runs on 10 hits his last time out, Eric Lauer just wanted to shake it off on Friday against the Pirates at PNC Park. Lauer’s first inning in that mission started with some trouble, as Bryan Reynolds singled and

PITTSBURGH -- After lasting just 2 2/3 innings and surrendering five runs on 10 hits his last time out, Eric Lauer just wanted to shake it off on Friday against the Pirates at PNC Park.

Lauer’s first inning in that mission started with some trouble, as Bryan Reynolds singled and Starling Marte laced an RBI double that was an inch away from a triple before Fernando Tatis Jr. dived to tag Marte. Maybe whatever ailed Lauer on Saturday in Colorado wasn’t totally behind him.

“The first inning, I kind of didn’t feel like I had my legs under me,” Lauer said. “[Manager Andy Green] told me, ‘Just to step on the gas, show them your good heater,’ and that’s kind of what turned the page for me.”

Lauer went on to allow just three more hits and a walk over the next six innings, but an unearned run made him a tough-luck loser as the Padres fell, 2-1.

• Box score

Manny Machado launched his 15th homer of the year to lead off the fourth inning, his fifth drive in eight games, which gave Lauer a clean slate to work with after the first-inning hiccup.

But in the seventh, it was Machado’s mistake that gave the Pirates life. With one out, Lauer got Jung Ho Kang to chop a 51.9 mph grounder -- the slowest exit velocity recorded by Statcast for either team on the night -- but the ball kicked off the heel of Machado’s glove. He recovered to fire a dart to first base, but it was wide and low, allowing Kang to reach second. Five pitches later, Lauer got another ground ball, this time from Jose Osuna, but it found a hole through the middle infield to put the Pirates on top.

“He’s as good as there is,” Green said of Machado. “He’s also a human. Those things happen from time to time. He’s been unbelievable with the glove on his hand. I think everybody’s shocked if anything negative happens in the field with him.”

Lauer was visibly frustrated walking off the mound, but he said it was more at himself for not getting two big outs.

“I will never complain about a play that Manny doesn’t make, just because he picks me up so much,” Lauer said. “That one, I went over to him and I was like, ‘Hey, I really wanted to pick you up there, because you’ve done it for me so many times.’”

No error can take away from the strong bounceback outing Lauer put up, though. After pitching to a 2.03 ERA through five starts prior to his blemish at Coors Field, Lauer went seven innings for the third time in 15 starts, a feat he accomplished just once in 23 starts last year.

And when Lauer’s on, he’s really on. When he goes at least five innings, he owns a 3.29 ERA, and he tends to pitch efficiently.

On Friday, Lauer mixed his cutter and curveball, and even offered a slider he’s been working on, though to mixed results. He’s already thrown it much more than last season, in 30 2/3 fewer innings (165 times to 137).

“Been kind of playing around with the slider a little bit,” Lauer said. “Kind of left it up a few times, and it hurt me a little bit, but I mean, I think it’s going to be a good pitch.”

The bread and butter, though, is the fastball. Green noticed that Lauer’s velocity on his four-seamer, which he has gone to nearly 50 percent of the time this year, ticked up from the first inning (91.1 mph max) through the next six (93.8 mph max).

“First couple of batters … not a lot of conviction behind it, not a lot of intent behind it,” Green said. “I thought maybe halfway through the second all the way to the last inning, the fastball was coming out hot -- had an angle, had intent.”

And that “oomph,” as Lauer described it, helped shape another strong outing for a middle-of-the-rotation guy who’s working his way to putting up top-of-the-rotation numbers.

“I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well,” Lauer said, “and one little hiccup’s not going to ruin my year.”

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.