Melancon has rough ninth inning in loss to Cubs
After disappointing showing from relievers, closer continues troubling trend
PITTSBURGH -- Jared Hughes regarded the night's box score and just shook his head: Four relief pitchers out of the Pirates' highly-regarded bullpen picked up starter Francisco Liriano; each allowed runs, a total of six toward the 9-8 loss to the Cubs.
"You know what they say about being a relief pitcher," Hughes said. "You've got to have a short memory."
And maybe a tall third baseman? Of course not: The ball chopped by Starlin Castro over 5-foot-8 Josh Harrison did drive in the two ninth-inning tying runs, but it would be short-sighted to overlook that Harrison is a marvelous athlete with an impressive vertical.
The chopper -- soon followed by another dribbler that broke an 8-8 tie -- merely furthered Mark Melancon's nightmare. When he wakes up from it, will he still be the Bucs' closer?
"I'm not going to overreact," said manager Clint Hurdle, referring to an upsetting game in general.
Of Melancon specifically, Hurdle did concede: "Right now, we're not seeing the crispness we've seen out of his pitches in the past. There's been a velocity drop … of a couple of ticks."
"Two?" Melancon asked rhetorically. "I don't pay attention to that. I'm worried only about results."
Tuesday night's misadventure was not an isolated incident. Melancon worked in 144 games for the Pirates in 2013-14 without ever surrendering three runs; he's now done that twice in a week, prior to Tuesday night having turned a 5-1 lead over Detroit in the home opener into a 5-4 squeaker.
While Melancon labored to retire the Cubs on his 25th pitch, Arquimedes Caminero was warming up in the Pirates' bullpen.
Trouble did not sneak up on Melancon as he entered the ninth inning to protect an 8-6 lead. Anthony Rizzo lined the first pitch to center for a single. Jorge Soler ripped the second pitch through the right-center alley for a double.
"He's a good pitcher, and he's someone you have to try to get to early," Rizzo said. "I don't know what it was tonight [for him]. I think it was a product of our team not giving away at-bats and not giving up."
The two hard-struck balls somewhat weakened the argument that Melancon fell victim to some tough luck as the rally continued.
"One ball was hit hard," said Hurdle, meaning Soler's drive.
"Yeah, there were a couple of tough hops," said Melancon, who otherwise did not hide behind the misfortune card. "But that's part of the game. Any game like this is a tough. ... Yeah, it's tough."
Having his opening two pitches whacked had Melancon out of sorts from the get-go.
"Obviously, they're very aggressive," he said of the Cubs, "but usually that works to my advantage. I like it when teams are aggressive. That normally only helps me, but you get a night like this, where two pitches in you got guys on second and third … that's [the risk] of throwing strikes and going right after guys, which is what I do."