CHICAGO -- Nearly two weeks into the season, the Pirates are still looking for answers -- and outs -- from their middle-relief corps.Left-hander Steven Brault held his own against Cubs veteran Jonathan Lester, leaving with the game tied at 4 after five innings. But Chicago's dangerous lineup blew it open
CHICAGO -- Nearly two weeks into the season, the Pirates are still looking for answers -- and outs -- from their middle-relief corps.
Left-hander Steven Brault held his own against Cubs veteran Jonathan Lester, leaving with the game tied at 4 after five innings. But Chicago's dangerous lineup blew it open against Pittsburgh's bullpen, piling on nine runs in three innings as the Cubs cruised to a 13-5 victory over the Bucs on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.
"We didn't have much quality off the mound after Brault left," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had some tough innings."
The sixth inning was perhaps the toughest, a recurring theme for the Pirates. With the game tied, Hurdle summoned right-hander Tyler Glasnow to pitch. It was Glasnow's first experience in a traditional high-leverage situation out of the bullpen, as his first appearance of the season came with a four-run lead and the Pirates trailed by three runs the last two times he pitched.
"I felt really good. I'd like to do it more," Glasnow said. "Unfortunately it didn't go my way today, but I felt fine."
The Cubs' first run of the sixth scored without a hit or walk, thanks to some adventurous baserunning by Javier Baez. Glasnow struck out Baez, but catcher Francisco Cervelli couldn't corral Glasnow's two-strike curveball and Baez safely reached first. He advanced to second on Jason Heyward's groundout and stole third.
"I was a little slow to home. He just took third," Glasnow said. "Go out and fix it and get it next time."
The Bucs brought their infield in, and pinch-hitter Thomas La Stella hit a chopper to second baseman Josh Harrison. Harrison threw home, but Baez slid in safely as the ball skipped past Cervelli to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead. Three of the next four Cubs recorded hits off Glasnow, who left with two outs in the inning and a four-run deficit.
"We didn't help him on defense. He did get a swing from a guy on a breaking ball, but it's a wild pitch," Hurdle said. "A lot of the fastballs that were thrown were up in the zone. Our defense didn't help him, but he didn't make a lot of quality pitches out there, either."
Left-hander Josh Smoker gave up four runs in the seventh inning, two of them on Ian Happ's pinch-hit homer. Baez hit his second homer of the day, and his fourth of the series, off right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas in the eighth.
The Pirates are off to a hot start overall on the strength of their lineup and young rotation, but their bullpen remains a question mark. They believe in the back-end trio of Michael Feliz, George Kontos and Felipe Vazquez, but they have not seen consistent success in front of them.
The bullpen's 7.51 ERA and 1.72 WHIP are both the worst marks in the Majors. They have allowed 18 runs this season before the sixth inning, 15 runs in the sixth and 24 from innings seven through nine.
"It comes down to confidence, but we left a lot of pitches up and over the plate," Hurdle said. "It's downhill angle to the fastballs. It's secondary pitches that'll play. We didn't have much of that working tonight."
Brault also fell victim to the big inning, allowing four runs in the second. He admitted the game sped up on him, and he couldn't slow it down until after Baez drilled a three-run homer to right-center in the second. But he recovered after that, working three straight scoreless innings and stranding the go-ahead run at third base by striking out Victor Caratini to end the fifth.
"He didn't break. He bent the one big inning and held them off," Hurdle said. "Even the fifth inning, after the leadoff double, he kept us in the game. It was a gritty performance."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sean gone: The Pirates jumped on Lester in the second. With one out, David Freese singled to center and Gregory Polanco walked to set up Sean Rodriguez's three-run homer, his first of the season. Rodriguez entered the game 11-for-48 against Lester with two homers and 20 strikeouts. He launched an 0-1 sinker 422 feet to center.
Freese also homered in the eighth. Hurdle inserted Rodriguez and Freese into the lineup to keep the veterans involved and to present a different look against a left-handed starter. Both delivered.
"It doesn't surprise me. They love to compete. They love to play," Hurdle said. "They work hard when they're not playing. Those are good things for them. They're good things for the team to keep them involved to be able to help produce."
Sped up, hit out: The Cubs loaded the bases in the second when Benjamin Zobrist reached on a bunt single, Addison Russell doubled and Caratini was hit by a pitch. Zobrist then scored on a wild pitch during Baez's at-bat. Baez smacked a 3-1 fastball from Brault for his third homer of the season to take a 4-3 lead. According to Statcast™, the ball sailed 434 feet.
"The game did speed up on me. I was telling [pitching coach] Ray [Searage] I hate that, because I hate the immaturity that goes along with that," Brault said. "To me, that's just something that can't happen. That's something I'm going to make sure I focus on going forward.
"It was a good learning moment. To be able to go the three [innings] afterward and keep my team in the ballgame, keep the defense there, keep it rolling, those were good signs."
"Why not? It was going to be a long man. We kind of rolled over the lineup. We were right there. I felt he had the pitches to go at it. I didn't necessarily say we were only going to pitch him when we're losing. I thought it was a good opportunity for him to go out there and see what he could do with the opportunity." -- Hurdle, on why Glasnow pitched the sixth inning
"You realize it. Things feel a little bit off. Then you try to slow down, and you think, 'Oh yeah, I'm slowing down.' Then you look at the video and you're like, 'That was not what I thought I was doing.' It's like hearing yourself sing on a recording, and afterward, you're like, 'Ah, I thought that sounded better!' It takes maturity. It takes really knowing yourself to really bring it all the way back. It's something I'll work on." -- Brault, on how the game sped up on him in the second inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Baez became the first Cubs player with consecutive multi-homer games since Alfonso Soriano did so on May 16-17, 2008.
Rodriguez's homer was his first with at least two runners on base since Sept. 13, 2016, against the Phillies.
Starling Marte, who went 1-for-3 with a double and a steal, has reached base in each of the Pirates' 11 games this season.
Right-hander Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates as they complete a three-game series against the Cubs at 2:20 p.m. ET Thursday at Wrigley Field. Williams is 2-0 after holding the Reds to two runs over 5 1/3 innings on Friday. He has a 4.82 ERA in five outings against the Cubs.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.