PITTSBURGH -- The goal for every pitcher, every night, is to get ahead of hitters then put them away. Steven Brault had no trouble with the first part Monday night. The second part was more elusive.
Brault gave up five runs on five hits and two walks over six innings in the Pirates' 6-2 loss to the Rockies at PNC Park. Two batters into the game, Colorado had a two-run lead. The biggest blow came in the fourth inning, when Trevor Story lined a three-run homer into the left-field seats.
"He left himself some openings that a good hitting team took advantage of," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
There were some encouraging aspects to Brault's performance, however. He needed only 86 pitches to work six innings for the third time in his Major League career. He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 23 hitters he faced. His problems, oddly enough, came in the most advantageous count: no balls, two strikes.
"That was almost my kryptonite," Brault said.
He was ahead of Rockies leadoff man DJ LeMahieu, 0-2, then threw four straight balls -- a slider and three fastballs. Chris Iannetta, the next hitter, made him pay with an RBI double to center field.
With one out in the fourth, Brault found himself ahead of Ian Desmond, 0-2. He threw a slider and a changeup out of the zone, and Desmond fouled off a fastball. Two more changeups sailed outside the zone, and Desmond walked. Carlos Gonzalez chopped a single up the middle, bringing up Story.
Once again, Brault got ahead, 0-2. An inside fastball and a low changeup brought the count even, then Story fouled off a fastball and smashed a hanging slider out to left field.
"We got to the point where we knew we had him swinging," Brault said. "The point was to throw a slider down in the dirt, and I threw it right down the middle. He's a guy that's going to hit that."
Brault said his slider lacked its usual "bite" but also credited the Rockies, who struck out three times and drew four walks on the night, for their two-strike approach.
"They did a really good job. They didn't strike out," Brault said. "Even [Tyler] Glasnow only struck out one of them, and he's the best at it. I think they just did a really good job putting at-bats together tonight, and that's going to happen sometimes."
Meanwhile, Rockies starter German Marquez cooled off the Pirates' hot-hitting lineup on another chilly, snowy evening along the Allegheny River. The Pirates entered the series opener with the National League's highest-scoring offense but mustered only a pair of hits -- both triples, interestingly -- and two walks off Marquez in six innings.
Marquez held the Pirates hitless until the fifth inning, when Francisco Cervelli tripled past a diving Gonzalez and scored on Colin Moran's sacrifice fly, but by then Marquez was protecting a five-run lead.
"He showed really good command of the pitches that he used tonight," Hurdle said. "Very aggressive."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Desmond's one-out walk in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a chopper right back up the middle. Brault's instinct was to make the play, but he thought shortstop Jordy Mercer was behind the bag at second. He quickly drew his outstretched glove back, trusting his defense to at least get out the lead runner. The ball skipped to second … and right into center field, between Mercer and shifted third baseman Moran. Story then came up with two runners on and extended Colorado's lead to five runs.
"When that ball was hit and I decided to bring the glove back and then I looked back and we weren't there, I was like, 'Ah, that is a super bummer,'" Brault said. "The problem is that I get [ahead] 0-2 on the next guy and give up a home run. It's just got to be better."
Marte robbed Rockies third baseman Pat Valaika of a hit in the second inning. Valaika ripped a sinking, 103.5-mph line drive to center off Brault with one out, but Marte slid just in time to get under it. According to Statcast™, it was a four-star catch by Marte (43 percent catch probability) as he had to cover 38 feet in 3.1 seconds. Marte made two four-star plays and one five-star catch last season.
Marte was also responsible for the Pirates' hardest-hit ball of the night -- a 108-mph, line-drive triple to left-center that scored Gregory Polanco in the sixth inning. He is batting .350 (14-for-40) with 11 runs over his last 10 games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Left fielder Corey Dickerson extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a seventh-inning single, but his defensive work continued to shine Monday night. Dickerson snagged a Gonzalez fly ball and fired to Mercer, who tagged out Ian Desmond when he attempted to tag up and advance on the out.
It was Dickerson's Major League-leading fourth outfield assist, which ties a career high (set last year) for the 28-year-old. Dickerson, relegated to part-time outfield/DH duty with the Rays the past two seasons, entered Monday leading the Majors with seven Defensive Runs Saved.
"He's played outstanding defense," Hurdle said. "There's been plays to be made. He's made them."
Right-hander Trevor Williams will look to continue his perfect start to the season on Tuesday, when the Pirates host the Rockies at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Williams improved to 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA as he held the Cubs to one run over six innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. He will face Colorado right-hander Chad Bettis (2-0, 2.25 ERA), the Rockies' best pitcher so far this season.