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Pirates struggling to regain momentum

Pittsburgh has dropped five of its last six games
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO - There were moments and mistakes to analyze in the Pirates' 3-2 loss to the Padres on Friday night. The decision to remove Chad Kuhl with one out in the sixth. Cory Spangenberg's ability to pull a fastball from Daniel Hudson, followed by Jordan Luplow's inability to field it cleanly. The full-count slider from Hudson that bounced past Francisco Cervelli, scoring the go-ahead run.

But ultimately, the number that mattered most appeared under the Pirates' hit column: three. Pittsburgh managed only three hits, struck out 12 times, walked just once and lost the series opener at Petco Park. It was the Pirates' third straight loss and their fifth in the last six games, a sudden skid on the heels of a stretch in which they won 12 of 14 to leap back into the National League Central race.

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SAN DIEGO - There were moments and mistakes to analyze in the Pirates' 3-2 loss to the Padres on Friday night. The decision to remove Chad Kuhl with one out in the sixth. Cory Spangenberg's ability to pull a fastball from Daniel Hudson, followed by Jordan Luplow's inability to field it cleanly. The full-count slider from Hudson that bounced past Francisco Cervelli, scoring the go-ahead run.

But ultimately, the number that mattered most appeared under the Pirates' hit column: three. Pittsburgh managed only three hits, struck out 12 times, walked just once and lost the series opener at Petco Park. It was the Pirates' third straight loss and their fifth in the last six games, a sudden skid on the heels of a stretch in which they won 12 of 14 to leap back into the National League Central race.

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They played their way back into contention by beating the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals - three division rivals against whom they are 19-13 against this season. But Friday's loss dropped them to 2-12 against the struggling Reds, Giants and Padres this year.

"They don't really show it in the standings, but they still have a good lineup," Hudson said of the Padres. "You've got to manage your way through it. They beat us today."

Andrew McCutchen was responsible for two of the Pirates' three hits and both of their RBIs, as he took San Diego starter Travis Wood deep to left in the third inning. It was the Bucs' second hit off Wood, and it would be their last. The 30-year-old lefty, who had a 6.91 ERA with the Royals this season, retired the last 10 Pirates he faced.

"The numbers this year, they are what they are. We've seen him good," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We knew what to anticipate and expect. We weren't able to punch back."

With a one-run lead through five innings but no further offensive support, any mistake on the mound or in the field was bound to be magnified. That was the case in the sixth inning.

With one out and nobody on, Jose Pirela slapped Kuhl's 97th pitch of the night to right field for a single. Hurdle strode to the mound, removed Kuhl and summoned Hudson from the bullpen. Kuhl said he "absolutely" could have stayed in and he was "disappointed" to leave in that situation, but Hurdle insisted it was the right move. Spangenberg, due up next, had already doubled and walked against Kuhl.

"At that particular point in time, I thought we had gotten a good outing from him," Hurdle said. "It was a good effort and it's a good outing. Unfortunately, he got a bad result."

Spangenberg jumped on Hudson's first pitch, a 95.6 mph fastball up and in, and pulled it to right field to drive in the tying run.

"Impressive piece of hitting," Hudson said.

Luplow bobbled the ball, allowing Spangenberg to take third base, but it was ruled a triple. After striking out Jabari Blash, Hudson faced Allen Cordoba with a chance to escape the inning. He threw a full-count slider that bounced in front of the plate. Caught between trying to catch the pitch and block it, Cervelli wasn't able to stop the ball from bouncing to the backstop. Spangenberg scurried home to put the Padres ahead.

"It's a tough way to give up the third run," Hurdle said.

And a tough way to lose as the Pirates try to regain their momentum before Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline and the final two months of a potentially tight division race.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Daniel Hudson