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Defensive issues rear their head in defeat

Pirates charged with five unearned runs in loss against the Yankees
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have put in the work. They were out on the field at PNC Park early Saturday afternoon, three hours before first pitch, working through team defensive drills. But the work is not leading to outs when Pittsburgh needs them most, as evidenced by the handful of mistakes that led to an 11-5 loss to the Yankees.

The Pirates are tied for the National League lead with 16 errors. In 17 games this season, they have allowed 15 unearned runs -- including five on Saturday.

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have put in the work. They were out on the field at PNC Park early Saturday afternoon, three hours before first pitch, working through team defensive drills. But the work is not leading to outs when Pittsburgh needs them most, as evidenced by the handful of mistakes that led to an 11-5 loss to the Yankees.

The Pirates are tied for the National League lead with 16 errors. In 17 games this season, they have allowed 15 unearned runs -- including five on Saturday.

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"Overall defense, we need to continue to work," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've been putting all the work in that we can."

Jameson Taillon didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, and he kept the Yankees off the board until the sixth, when Starlin Castro's homer erased the Pirates' three-run lead. The Yankees chased Taillon, loaded the bases and scored two more on Ronald Torreyes' one-out double to right field.

If John Jaso had stopped the sinking line drive, perhaps only one run would have scored. But Jaso misread the ball and made a late dive after it. He couldn't stop the ball, which hopped over him and allowed both Aaron Judge and Greg Bird to score, giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead.

Hurdle admitted a need for defensive improvement across the board but defended Jaso, making his second career start in right field after handling himself well at Busch Stadium earlier this week. Jaso is one of several utility players now rotating through right field following the suspension of Starling Marte, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

"That's kind of picking a scab to say right-field defense [is an issue] because of one play today," Hurdle said. "In St. Louis, he made plays all over the place. He's made plays. He hasn't had a misplay since he's been out there."

The more critical mistake came in the eighth inning. The Pirates rallied to tie the game in the sixth, and Felipe Rivero breezed through a perfect seventh. Rivero quickly retired the Yankees' first two hitters in the eighth, then Austin Romine hit a ground ball near second baseman Adam Frazier -- another utility man thrust into a more prominent role this season.

Video: NYY@PIT: Ellsbury reaches on an error by McCutchen

Frazier ranged to his left but couldn't pick up the ball, and Romine reached safely. Two batters later, Chris Carter made the Pirates pay for Frazier's error by blasting a three-run shot into the Bucs bullpen in left-center field.

Video: NYY@PIT: Carter crushes a pinch-hit three-run homer

"I think our overall defense has got to tighten up," Hurdle said. "The problematic play tonight at second base to put the inning away ... Rivero's out there, that's three outs and we're off the field. It didn't happen."

The next batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, hit a fly ball to left-center field. Andrew McCutchen raced over from center and called off Gregory Polanco, but McCutchen said Polanco didn't hear him. Fearing a collision, both outfielders pulled up at the last second and the ball dropped between the two of them. "I know that's on me -- I've got to catch the ball -- but it's something I've got to learn from," McCutchen said.

Ellsbury scored on a wild pitch, and the Yankees plated another run on consecutive doubles before the Pirates finally got out of what could have been a scoreless inning.

Video: NYY@PIT: Ellsbury races home on a wild pitch

"We've still got some work to do," McCutchen said. "It was a game that was going well, then we had that big inning against us. We've got to keep battling, keep fighting, show up tomorrow."

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

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