Bucs' plan to swing away backfires vs. Phils

September 25th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Despite dropping the first two games of their series in Philadelphia, the Pirates' aggressive offensive approach had produced some impressive results against Phillies pitchers.

That was not the case on Saturday, however, when the Bucs' bats fell silent in a 3-0 loss at Citizens Bank Park.

The Pirates swung early and often -- mostly to no avail -- against Phillies starter Ranger Suárez. They managed only four hits (all singles) on a day when Suárez took full advantage of Pittsburgh's attacking mentality.

Though the Pirates lost on both Thursday and Friday, they had raced out to an early lead in each contest. They took a 6-0 lead in the third inning on Thursday and a 4-1 advantage in the fourth inning on Friday.

Looking to do the same against Suárez, the Pirates instead saw only seven pitches in the first inning and six in the second. That would prove to be the theme of the afternoon, as Pittsburgh hitters saw seven or fewer pitches in four of the first six innings. That allowed Suárez to navigate those first six frames on only 52 pitches on his way to throwing a 97-pitch shutout.

“He just really pitched well. He executed a lot of his pitches,” said catcher Taylor Davis, who had two of the club’s four hits in his Pirates debut. “And obviously, the nice part for him was he got to get out of innings quickly. He got to get through the game in under 100, so obviously that was part of it.”

Saturday’s game marked the fourth time this season that the Pirates were held scoreless on fewer than 100 pitches -- something that has happened to the other 29 teams only twice combined. It also hadn’t happened to Pittsburgh’s offense since 2015 prior to the four occasions this year.

The latest such occurrence, however, wasn’t a matter of swinging wildly at bad pitches.

“We went out being aggressive on pitches and he put the ball on the ground early,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It wasn't the aggressiveness of really swinging at a lot of bad pitches, it was just we didn't square anything up.”

Suárez pounded the strike zone with an impressive fastball-changeup combo that lowered his ERA to 1.45 over 99 innings this season.

“Changeup was really good,” Shelton said. “And the pitches that he did leave in the middle of the plate, we didn't capitalize on. He was really efficient, came right at us. We knew coming in that he put the ball on the ground, and his changeup was really, really good.”

The changeup was really the pitch of the day for both teams.

Wil Crowe served up solo home runs two batters apart in the third inning to Matt Vierling and Bryce Harper -- and each came on a changeup. The only other run came in the fifth, when the Phillies notched a pair of infield singles before Brad Miller chopped a ball through the left side against the shift to make it 3-0.

“We didn't execute two changeups and we gave up a run on three soft-hit balls,” Shelton said.

The two singles to set up the rally had exit velocities of 66.4 mph and 64.6 mph. Meanwhile, Miller’s single through the hole created by the shift had an expected batting average -- based on exit velocity and launch angle -- of just .240, according to Statcast.

“That's just how it goes some days,” Crowe said. “Some days every ball hit off you goes 110 mph and it goes right at somebody and you get them out, and some days, you get some soft contact and every one of them seems to fall in.”

Unfortunately for the Pirates, they were on the wrong end of things. They hit 10 balls with an exit velocity of at least 90 mph against Suárez -- and only three turned into hits. Two of those hits came off the bat of Davis, who was playing in his first big league game since Aug. 6, 2019, with the Cubs.

“It would have felt better if we would have won the game, but obviously a couple hits is good, especially against a guy like Ranger Suárez, who's throwing the ball good right now,” Davis said. “It was fun to do that, but like I said, it would have been much more appreciated if we could have won the game also.”