PITTSBURGH -- On paper, Joe Musgrove’s second start of the season appeared almost identical to his outing against the Cardinals on Opening Day. Problem was, his mound opponent Wednesday night pitched even better than Jack Flaherty did five days ago.
The Pirates simply could not solve the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff in the finale of their first series at PNC Park, managing only one hit and one walk while striking out 10 times during the right-hander’s 6 1/3 innings of work. Pittsburgh didn’t get a runner to second base all night and hit only two balls out of the infield as the lineup’s collective first-week slump continued in a 3-0 loss to Milwaukee.
“We got out-pitched because Woodruff pitched really well,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Joe pitched well. Woodruff pitched a little bit better.”
Heading into an off-day Thursday, the Pirates are 2-4 with a .171 team batting average and .520 OPS that both rank last in the Majors. It has been only six games, sure, but that’s 10 percent of the season in the books. And as the Pirates embark on a trip through Chicago and Minnesota, they are still waiting for several key contributors to come alive at the plate.
Josh Bell, who struck out three times on Wednesday, is 4-for-27 with no extra-base hits and seven strikeouts. Bryan Reynolds is 2-for-20 with seven strikeouts. Kevin Newman is 1-for-16. Adam Frazier delivered the big hit in a victory Tuesday, but he’s 3-for-24 overall. Gregory Polanco is hitless in seven at-bats since coming off the injured list.
“I don’t think we’re pressing at all. I didn’t see any pressed at-bats tonight. I saw aggressive swings. I just saw a guy who executed pitches,” Shelton said. “If guys were pressing at the plate, what happened last night late in the game wouldn’t happen. You wouldn’t be able to have the consistency of at-bats and do the things we did. It’s not pressing.”
Third baseman Phillip Evans reached safely on a swinging bunt single with one out in the first inning, bouncing a ball just in front of the plate before it rolled down the third-base line. Catcher Omar Narvaez retrieved it and made a spinning throw that went wide of first base. But the Pirates didn’t have another on base until Evans worked a leadoff walk in the seventh.
“That’s all part of it. These guys have been around enough,” Evans said. “You know how baseball goes sometimes. It was just one of those nights.”
Woodruff exited the game in the seventh after throwing 92 pitches, including 61 strikes. The Brewers’ ace baffled the Pirates with fastballs and changeups, as they swung and missed on eight of the 54 fastballs he threw and eight of his 23 changeups.
“He was absolutely just mowing people down tonight,” Brewers center fielder Ben Gamel said. “It was pretty uncompetitive, I felt like. He definitely had his stuff."
Woodruff gave Musgrove no margin for error, and the damage done against him all came on two swings. In the third inning, Gamel launched a changeup into the right-field seats for a two-run homer -- the one pitch Musgrove wanted back. In the sixth, Keston Hiura -- quickly establishing himself as a Pirates nemesis -- swatted a solo shot out to center field. Musgrove regretted the pitch selection, a fastball, more than the execution of the heater.
Just how similar was this night to Musgrove’s first outing?
• Wednesday vs. Brewers: 5 2/3 innings, four hits, three runs, two home runs, three walks, eight strikeouts
• Friday at Cardinals: 5 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs, two home runs, three walks, seven strikeouts
But the right-hander felt it was a step forward. His slider was sharper, and the Brewers whiffed on seven of the 17 he threw. His fastball velocity ticked up a bit, although it didn’t have quite the life he’d like to see. And he was relatively efficient, falling just one out short of six innings while throwing 91 pitches.
“It’s something I can build off here. I feel like I’m just an inch away from getting everything timed and being on and being able to lock everything in,” Musgrove said. “I’m not discouraged. I’m not overly excited about losing, but this is something I can continue to build on and improve.”
The Pirates’ highlight on the night came in the field. Eric Sogard tried to score from second base on Hiura’s single to left in the third inning, but Reynolds -- as he did in the eighth inning Tuesday night -- made a perfect throw to the plate to keep a run off the board.
It was Reynolds’ third outfield assist in six games. At the time he made the play, no other team in the Majors had more than two.
“Two really good throws,” Shelton said. “Came up aggressive, made a good throw.”