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Polanco power, 3 more Tuesday takeaways

Brault and the set-up men got it to Vazquez, who threw fire in 9th
@adamdberry
May 8, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Making his first start in more than a year, left-hander Steven Brault gave the Pirates what they needed. So did Starling Marte, Melky Cabrera, Gregory Polanco and nearly every available pitcher in the Bucs’ bullpen. Pittsburgh had to piece together 27 outs and find a way to scratch

PITTSBURGH -- Making his first start in more than a year, left-hander Steven Brault gave the Pirates what they needed. So did Starling Marte, Melky Cabrera, Gregory Polanco and nearly every available pitcher in the Bucs’ bullpen.

Pittsburgh had to piece together 27 outs and find a way to scratch across one more run than Texas on Tuesday night. The Pirates accomplished both goals, using seven pitchers and riding three big hits in a 5-4 win over the Rangers at PNC Park.

“Obviously not everything was perfect, but we won,” Brault said. “And that’s all we want.”

Box score

Here are four takeaways from the Pirates’ 17th win of the season.

Brault got the job done

Brault allowed two runs over four innings in his first start since April 27, 2018. The lefty made only four appearances out of the bullpen over the first five weeks of the season, and only once since Spring Training had he thrown more than 43 pitches.

“It was the outing we needed. It was the distance we needed,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Very proud of him.”

The Pirates’ rotation will be without Chris Archer for a little while longer and potentially without Jameson Taillon for two months, and Brault will get another chance to prove himself as a starter on Sunday in St. Louis.

Brault acknowledged that he felt a little taxed in the fourth inning, when he gave up a two-run homer to Hunter Pence. He felt strong enough to pitch another inning, but Hurdle summoned Cabrera to pinch-hit when the Pirates loaded the bases with two outs.

Cabrera delivered a double to right field that extended his hitting streak to 11 games and turned the Pirates’ one-run deficit into a one-run lead, so Brault wasn’t exactly upset about being lifted.

“I think Melky’s a little bit of a better hitter than I am,” Brault said, dryly, “so I guess it was a good decision.”

Polanco’s power is coming

Polanco launched a two-run homer to right-center in the fifth that gave the Pirates some necessary breathing room and allowed the right fielder to breathe a sigh of relief. The 393-foot blast to right-center field was Polanco’s first home run since Sept. 3, 2018, before the shoulder surgery that postponed his season debut until April 22 this year.

“I was running the bases so happy, like, ‘Wow, I missed that feeling,’” Polanco said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I’m so happy right now I got the first one. Hopefully the other ones will come.”

As they worked in the batting cage on Tuesday afternoon, hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz encouraged Polanco to incorporate his hips and legs in his swing. Polanco said he hadn’t been using his lower half enough since coming off the injured list, but he could tell there was a difference on Tuesday night.

“Last year, when I got really hot, that’s what I was doing,” Polanco said. “It’s hard when you miss that much time.”

Polanco hit a career-high 23 home runs last season. If he and Marte can get hot along with cleanup hitter Josh Bell, it would change the dynamic of Pittsburgh’s lineup.

“I’m in the middle of the lineup. I’ve got to be on base. I’ve got to drive in runs,” Polanco said. “I don’t put pressure on me, but I know I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to produce.”

The bullpen pieced it together

After Brault left, the Pirates needed 15 outs from their bullpen. That would have been an easy assignment last August, when Hurdle could’ve turned to the high-leverage quintet of Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez.

It’s not that easy right now. Santana is out for the season. Rodriguez has given up six homers in 14 innings. Kela hasn’t pitched since leaving Saturday’s game with right shoulder discomfort.

So Hurdle had to navigate a different path through five innings and find pitchers who could get big outs when they needed them.

Michael Feliz worked around his own throwing error in the fifth inning. Francisco Liriano loaded the bases in the sixth but escaped unscathed. Dovydas Neverauskas allowed a one-out walk and a single in the seventh before giving way to Tyler Lyons. Lyons struck out home run threat Joey Gallo, surrendered a two-run double to Hunter Pence that cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one, then struck out Rougned Odor to end the inning.

Crick walked one batter and hit another in the eighth but didn’t allow a run.

“Almost everybody got pushed a little bit,” Hurdle said. “We were tough enough and made enough pitches.”

Felipe throws fire

The Pirates’ first six pitchers of the night were tough enough, but the closer was straight-up dominant. Working with a one-run lead, Vazquez retired Nomar Mazara, Elvis Andrus and Gallo in an 11-pitch inning to record his 10th save of the season.

“The guy at the end was really special,” Hurdle said. “You’re not going to see that stuff too often. He’s the one that can do it.”

Vazquez was especially fired up to face Gallo, who went deep against the lefty in Arlington on April 30. That remains the only earned run Vazquez has allowed this season.

With two outs in the ninth on Tuesday, Gallo took an 87-mph slider from Vazquez then whiffed on a pair of fastballs -- 101.6 mph and 101.4 mph -- to end the game.

“My turn,” Vazquez said. “He got me once. He wasn’t going to get me twice.”

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