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Bucs fall short after Musgrove chased in 5th

Starting pitching in need of turnaround after facing Braves, Brewers
@adamdberry
June 13, 2019

ATLANTA -- The day before making his first start of the Pirates’ four-game series against the Braves, Joe Musgrove thought about the challenges of facing the same team twice in a row. Turning a lineup over three times in one game is tough enough, but Musgrove did it well as

ATLANTA -- The day before making his first start of the Pirates’ four-game series against the Braves, Joe Musgrove thought about the challenges of facing the same team twice in a row.

Turning a lineup over three times in one game is tough enough, but Musgrove did it well as he pitched into the ninth inning against Atlanta on June 5 at PNC Park. Getting through the same lineup a fourth, fifth and sixth time within a little more than a week? That proved to be more difficult for Musgrove as he gave up five runs in the fifth inning of the Pirates’ 6-5 loss to the Braves on Thursday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

Box score

“At this level, you see how fast things can go sideways,” Musgrove said. “I’ve got to do a better job of putting my foot down and making an adjustment there mid-inning.”

Things have certainly gone sideways for the Pirates, who were swept in four games by the Braves despite scoring 24 runs during the series. They have lost the first seven games of their current 10-day road trip through Milwaukee, Atlanta and Miami while being outscored, 54-33, over the last week.

“You’ve got to try to grab some positives out of the series and look at the way we battled and fought in this series against a really good team that’s really hot right now,” Musgrove said. “Hopefully we can round out this road trip with a couple wins in Miami and get back home.”

It’s critical that the Pirates turn things around quickly. They just completed 14 straight games against the division-leading Brewers and Braves, but their schedule offers few breaks beyond the next five games against the Marlins and Tigers.

Between June 21 and July 26, the Bucs will play nothing but teams above or around .500: the Padres, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies and Mets. If the last few years are any indication, their performance during that time will undoubtedly determine which direction their front office takes in the hours leading up to the July 31 Trade Deadline.

“We’ve got all the talent we need,” said rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in the series finale, bringing his average to .350 and his OPS to .965. “We just haven’t gotten the timely hit or whatever to get us over that hump. We’ll get over it and be just fine.”

Hitting actually hasn’t been a hindrance for the Pirates lately -- not like it was during their eight-game losing streak in late April. Pitching has been the problem.

The Bucs have lost 18 of their last 24 games since May 19. During that stretch, they have held opponents to fewer than four runs in only two games.

Here’s another way of looking at it: Pittsburgh is running the risk of wasting good hitting. The Pirates are now 24-16 this season when scoring at least four runs. Last year, they finished 63-26 when scoring at least four runs.

And here’s something else to think about: The Pirates’ pitching staff, their supposed strength entering the season, allowed fewer than four runs in 14 of their first 21 games. Since then, they have given up four runs or more in all but nine of their last 47 games.

Inside the Bucs’ clubhouse, they still believe it’ll all come together at some point, that the offensive outbursts will continue and their early season pitching productivity will return.

“No one’s giving up in here, man,” Musgrove said. “We’re fighting back. We’re staying in every game. We’re battling with two strikes. Our offense has been really good. I think we’ve just got to do a better job as a pitching staff of keeping us in games.”

Musgrove kept the Pirates in Thursday’s game for four innings despite the unusual circumstances surrounding his start. He was ejected 18 pitches into his scheduled outing in Monday’s series opener, but he felt ready to go in the series finale. That made Musgrove the first Pirates pitcher to start multiple games in one series since Joe Gibbon on Aug. 9-11, 1963, and the first to do so in a four-game series since Bob Friend on Sept. 7-9, 1956.

Musgrove said his arm felt good, albeit not like a normal start day, and it showed through the first four innings. That was nearly as far as manager Clint Hurdle hoped to see the right-hander pitch; they set five innings and 75 pitches as targets. But with the heart of the Braves’ lineup coming to the plate for the third time, Musgrove wasn’t able to record an out in the fifth.

Dansby Swanson walked, Freddie Freeman pulled an RBI triple to right, Josh Donaldson poked a single to right, Nick Markakis knocked a single to left, and Ozzie Albies chased Musgrove with a two-run double to right-center.

“They have a good lineup, and they’re going to hit mistakes. They have all series, and they have pretty much all year, especially at home,” Hurdle said. “I still think Joe’s stuff came up a little bit short. I think they had more pitches to hit in the fifth than any other inning, maybe the other four innings combined.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.