PITTSBURGH -- After giving up seven runs while recording only two outs last weekend at Wrigley Field, Pirates starter Jordan Lyles lamented the fact that he wasn’t helping his team fight their way back into the postseason race. Starts like that, Lyles said, are “hard-to-get-out-of-bed type outings.”
Lyles could sleep well after doing his part on Friday night against the Phillies, as he struck out seven while allowing only one run over 5 2/3 innings. But the Pirates’ lineup came up short against Jake Arrieta and their bullpen allowed Philadelphia to pull away in Pittsburgh’s 6-1 loss at PNC Park.
“Overall, obviously did much better than the last handful of outings. It’s good to get back on track and get back to where we were previously,” Lyles said. “Went through a low of lows there recently. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come and what direction we’re headed.”
The Pirates have lost six of their first seven games coming out of the All-Star break, falling to 45-51 on the year and 7 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs.
This is no time to search for silver linings, as the Bucs are hoping to declare themselves contenders before the Trade Deadline arrives in 12 days -- and falling this far out of the race may lead general manager Neal Huntington to consider dealing the club’s handful of impending free agents. Still, the Bucs were encouraged by the performance of Lyles.
After leaving the bases loaded in a 24-pitch first inning, the right-hander looked more like the pitcher who cruised through April and most of May as opposed to the one who put up a 10.13 ERA over his last seven starts. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 hitters he faced and finished five of his seven strikeouts with curveballs.
“It’s tough to turn the corner and turn the page and get ready for the next one. That fifth day can’t come quick enough. Luckily, I was able to put it behind me,” Lyles said. “I’ll be honest, I was thinking about that start coming into today. That one stunk. But we were able to bounce back. [Catcher Elias] Diaz did a great job of keeping me focused the whole game, and we mixed it up a little bit better.”
The only run Lyles allowed came in the fifth inning, when Adam Haseley launched an 0-2 fastball out to center for a game-tying home run. Lyles meant to elevate that pitch and knew it was trouble as soon as it left his hand. The right-hander otherwise minimized the damage, walking only one while giving up seven total hits.
“It had been a tough stretch. I was really, really pleased and proud of his effort,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was basically a sketch from what we saw the first two months from him.”
After throwing 100 pitches, Lyles exited the game with two on and two outs in the sixth. Right-hander Richard Rodriguez struck out Maikel Franco to end the inning, extending his nearly seven-week scoreless streak to 19 1/3 innings.
Rodriguez returned to start the seventh, only to give up a one-out single to Brad Miller before walking Scott Kingery. Bryce Harper delivered the go-ahead hit off Rodriguez, a line-drive single to center, with two outs in the seventh. It was the first run charged to Rodriguez since he gave up four against the Brewers on May 30.
“My preparation and my mentality was to get those numbers down and to make sure to go out there and help this team win and also help myself out,” Rodriguez said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “Unfortunately, we finished off the way we did today. It felt good to rise back up from the way that I started.”
The Phillies tacked on another run in the eighth, when Jean Segura beat reliever Kyle Crick to the bag to notch an RBI infield single that capped a 13-pitch at-bat during which Segura fouled off nine pitches. Clay Holmes relieved Crick and defused a bases-loaded jam by retiring Harper, but he gave up three runs in the ninth to put the game out of reach.
Meanwhile, the once-hot Pirates lineup has cooled down considerably. Since the break, the Bucs are averaging 2.7 runs per game. Arrieta, their former nemesis with the Cubs now pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, held the Bucs to one run on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, and the Phillies bullpen kept them off the board the rest of the way.
Their best chance came in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with two outs against Arrieta, but former Pittsburgh pitcher Juan Nicasio got Kevin Newman to tap a grounder back to the mound for the final out.
“He’s recreated himself with the situation that he’s in. He shows that he’s still able to pitch,” Hurdle said of Arrieta. “We weren’t able to push him much when we got on base. We were able to steal a couple bases, put ourselves in scoring position. The big opportunity got away from us in the sixth. But he made pitches and got outs when he had to.”