HR drought continues for Bucs in loss to M's

September 19th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates finally found a big inning on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park, but their home run drought and losing streak continued with a 6-5 defeat against the Mariners.

Pittsburgh has lost six straight games spanning two sweeps against the Cubs and Seattle. During that time, the Pirates have given up 19 home runs without hitting a single one of their own.

In fact, the Bucs’ last home run came a week before Thursday’s series finale against the Mariners, when Jacob Stallings took Jeff Samardzija deep in San Francisco. While home run totals are surging around baseball, the Pirates have hit only three in their last 13 games and 159 (fourth-fewest in the Majors) on the year.

“We haven’t been barreling balls up. That’s been the story,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Again today, a lot of mis-hits. We had the one inning where we had some extra-base hits. Outside of that, it’s been a little barren.”

Personnel has played a part in Pittsburgh’s recent power production -- or lack thereof. Josh Bell (strained left groin) and Starling Marte (sprained left wrist) have combined for 60 homers this season, and both have been sidelined during the Pirates’ recent losing streak.

Potential power threats Corey Dickerson and Francisco Cervelli were sidelined for much of the season before they were traded and released, respectively, and Gregory Polanco -- their leading home run hitter a year ago -- only played 42 games this season due to a shoulder injury. Only five other Pirates have hit 10 or more home runs this year, and only four of them are active and healthy: Bryan Reynolds, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman and Jose Osuna.

But the Mariners also did a nice job of holding down the Pirates’ lineup over the last two days. On Wednesday, they struck out twice and hit six of their outs to Seattle’s pitcher or catcher. On Thursday, they struck out 10 times and hit five of their outs to the pitcher or catcher.

“We’re just not squaring balls up. We’re not living on the barrel very much at all,” Hurdle said. “They played a good game of back-and-forth with us. A lot of balls capped off the end of the bat, a lot of balls topped. I can’t remember the last time we saw the pitcher and catcher make so many plays on back-to-back days. We’ve got work to do.”

Maybe they’re bound to snap out of it soon, and maybe a trip to Miller Park for their final road series of the season will help get their bats back on track.

But it was Seattle’s small ball, not its lack of the long ball, that did the Pirates in during the 11th inning of Thursday’s series finale.

Mariners leadoff man Shed Long reached on an error by Osuna, sped around to third on a single by Omar Narvaez and scored on a tricky double-play ball. Austin Nola hit a grounder to second baseman Kevin Kramer, who quickly threw the ball to Osuna at first for the inning’s second out. The Pirates eventually caught Narvaez in a rundown, but not before speedy Long scored easily to put Seattle ahead.

Nola’s grounder likely wasn’t hit hard enough for Kramer to have a chance at catching Long at the plate. Hurdle admitted he hadn’t watched a replay immediately after the game but thought Kramer’s best bet would’ve been going straight to second base for a 4-6-3 double play or quickly tagging Narvaez before throwing to first.

“The runner [Long] is not even involved, and that way you’re out of the inning,” Hurdle said.

The Mariners put up four runs against Joe Musgrove in the second inning, though Musgrove wasn’t helped by a rare error from shortstop Cole Tucker or his own misplay on pitcher Yusei Kikuchi’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Seattle capitalized on both gaffes as Long knocked a two-run single to right field before Musgrove escaped the inning.

Even though he threw 52 pitches in the first two innings, Musgrove bounced back to finish the fifth without allowing another run. He finished his 30th start of the season with six strikeouts, two walks and swinging strikes induced on 18 of his 97 pitches.

“Your job doesn’t end just because you fall behind,” Musgrove said. “You can kind of smell that. As a pitcher, you know you’ve got to put your foot down and find a way to get through five and keep your team in the game.”

The Pirates took Musgrove off the hook with a four-run, four-double second inning of their own. Moran, Elias Diaz, Jake Elmore and Musgrove all sprayed doubles around the ballpark, though Musgrove was clearly hoping for a second straight game with a triple before he slipped while rounding second base.

“I thought I had a chance at getting three there,” Musgrove said. “By the time I looked back at the bag, I was kind of in that in-between phase where I’ve got to shorten up and take two choppy steps or try to make one long step. I went with the long step and ended up losing my footing coming around the corner. … I think it’s good that I stayed at second.”