Did that hit a car?! Bell's HR fuels Pirates

August 30th, 2020

If a Brewers player bashes a home run that hits an SUV parked beyond the center-field fence at Miller Park, some lucky fan wins a new car. What happens when blasts a home run off the hood of the vehicle?

“I’m still waiting on the pink slips,” Bell said afterward. “They haven’t given it to me yet, but fingers crossed.”

Nobody’s driving a new car home from Milwaukee, but that didn’t stop Glenn Sherlock from lobbying the SUV should go to the oldest coach on Pittsburgh’s staff -- which, coincidentally enough, is Sherlock -- nor did it deter Steven Brault from arguing that the Brewers should give away two: one to a fan and another to Bell.

But the Pirates did claim a 5-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday that snapped their seven-game losing streak at Miller Park. And Bell, whose two-run blast broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning, headed back to the team hotel feeling better about his chances of turning things around in the second half of the season.

Bell’s Statcast-projected 428-foot, 109.4 mph shot off a middle-in fastball from starter Brandon Woodruff gave him home runs in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 11-13, 2019, when he went deep four times in three games. Bell has only hit four homers in 30 games this season, but he has reason to believe he’s getting back on the right track at the plate.

“It just feels like everything’s a little bit more slow. It feels like there’s not a redirect to get to fastballs in the zone. It’s just throw the hands at the ball then go from there,” Bell said. “It seemed like, at times, you could throw me a ball right down the middle and I was mis-hitting it into the ground. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case right now, so I’m just going to try to stay with where I’m at.”

Bell has cut back on his strikeouts over the last week and a half, whiffing only six times in the last nine games after striking out in 29 of his first 87 plate appearances this season. He’s also hitting the ball harder and driving it more. He said Saturday night he reviewed his swings from earlier this year and felt that, more often than not, those aren’t “the swings that I want to take.”

He’d take more swings like the one that launched a ball into rare territory, though. He said he’s been aiming for the cars on display during batting practice for the last few years, but last year Mike Moustakas became the first person he’d seen actually hit it. Bell had never matched that feat until Sunday.

“I guess there’s going to be an unlucky fan this year with a dent in their hood whenever they get that car,” Bell joked.

The Pirates saw a handful of encouraging performances beyond that of Bell as they began the second half of their season on Sunday.

• Gregory Polanco, who seemed to be on the verge of breaking out in the Pirates’ sweep of the Brewers last weekend, snapped a skid. Polanco had been 0-for-18 since going deep against Brewers reliever David Phelps a week ago, then he crushed a projected 412-foot homer off Woodruff to lead off the second inning.

• Brault pitched around a pair of errors the Pirates made behind him, allowing one (unearned) run while striking out five over three innings. He needed 68 pitches to complete those three innings, however, with a 22-pitch first and two 23-pitch innings.

“He could have pitched further into the game, but we misplayed a double-play ball into an error, we misplayed another ball and it cost him pitches,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I don't think he did a bad job. I just think his outing could have been extended if we would have caught the ball."

• Reliever Kyle Crick, fresh off the injured list, worked a scoreless fourth inning in his first appearance since July 27. Crick threw seven sliders that produced two called strikes and a whiff, although his fastball averaged just 90.4 mph and maxed out at 91.1 mph.

• Righty Nick Tropeano, whose excellent Pirates debut was greatly overshadowed during Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter, pitched well in his second outing out of the Bucs’ bullpen. Tropeano struck out two over 2 2/3 scoreless innings, bridging the gap from the fifth to the late innings.

"He's attacking the zone and attacking the zone with the fastball, the slider and the split. I think that is important,” Shelton said. “That's been the main thing. He's come right after hitters, and he's been effective with his offspeed stuff."

• Reliever Geoff Hartlieb, who is being used in higher-leverage situations and especially with men on base, finished the seventh after Tropeano walked a batter and hit another with two outs. Hartlieb plunked Keston Hiura, the first batter he faced, to load the bases. But then the right-hander struck out Justin Smoak on a slider and struck out two more in the eighth, setting up Richard Rodríguez in the ninth.

“It’s a role I really like. Dating back to when I was in the Minor Leagues, it’s something I’ve taken a lot of pride in,” Hartlieb said. “I really do enjoy it. I like coming in, finishing an inning and coming back out. It’s something I’m comfortable with.”

• After giving up a walk-off homer on Saturday, Rodríguez immediately bounced back by retiring three of the four batters he faced to cap the bullpen’s day with a sixth scoreless inning.

"The true testament to who Richie is as a person is [that] the first thing he said to me when he got in the park today was, 'Give me the ball,’” Shelton said. “He went right back out and went through the heart of their order. It was nice to see."