'Freaking throwing machine' Brault twirls CG

September 18th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- After a slew of short starts and inefficient outings, was tired of thinking. He only wanted to take the ball, throw each pitch with the intent to get an out and stay in the game for as long as possible. The lefty told catcher when he arrived at PNC Park on Thursday afternoon that he didn’t even want to review their scouting report on the Cardinals' lineup.

“We decided before the game that I wasn’t going to shake. I wasn’t going to think,” Brault said. “I was just going to be a freaking throwing machine.”

Stallings said Brault’s lack of interest in the scouting report didn’t worry him, but he was interested to see how it would play out on the mound. It couldn’t have gone any better, as it turned out. Brault made not only the Pirates’ best start of the season but the finest of his young career, a complete-game two-hitter with eight strikeouts in Pittsburgh’s 5-1 win over St. Louis.

It was the lefty’s first complete game in the Majors and his first nine-inning complete game since he was a two-way player pursuing a music career at Regis University in 2013. Brault also delivered the Bucs’ first nine-inning complete game since Jameson Taillon went the distance at Coors Field on Aug. 7, 2018.

“He was obviously phenomenal. That's the most excited I've been on a baseball field in quite a while. Almost felt like I threw a complete game,” Stallings said. “It was fun. Team needed it. Couldn't be happier for Steven, for sure."

All season, the Pirates have been plagued by short outings from their starting pitchers. Their only quality starts before Thursday night: Trevor Williams (seven innings, one run) against the Twins on Aug. 5 and Chad Kuhl (six innings, one run) on Aug. 27. Williams’ outing was their only seven-inning start before Brault took the mound against the Cardinals, and it snapped their eight-game losing streak.

Pitching deeper into games was clearly on Brault’s mind leading up to this start. He spoke about it with Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin in the dugout at Kauffman Stadium after only working four innings against the Royals last Friday. He talked about it with the media in a Zoom call on Wednesday. And it was the motive for him putting the game in Stallings’ hands on Thursday night.

“The idea behind this one was just, I don’t want to think. I’ve been thinking too much,” Brault said. “Just go out there, have fun and throw the ball.”

“He said he was just going to trust me,” Stallings added. “His mentality was 'attack the hitter, try to get an out with every pitch' -- not attack, not try to set anybody up, just trying to focus on every pitch, trying to get an out on that pitch. I said, 'All right, sounds good.’”

They accomplished that goal against a Cardinals lineup loaded with seven right-handed hitters. Brault threw 19 pitches in the first two innings, then St. Louis strung together its only rally with a walk and two singles. Brault walked Yadier Molina with two outs in the fourth then retired the final 16 batters he faced in order.

“I didn’t talk to him all game,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I thought he was in complete control.”

Brault found success late last summer by leaning heavily on his fastball. In his last victory before Thursday, he threw 69 straight heaters before mixing in an offspeed pitch at Coors Field on Sept. 1, 2019. But he flummoxed the Cardinals with his changeup, a pitch that spins similarly to his two-seam fastball. The Cards swung and missed on 10 of the 34 changeups Brault threw, and the five that they put in play had an average exit velocity of just 68.8 mph.

“It was like, ‘Hey, I can throw it for strikes consistently and was getting some swings and misses, weak contact,’” Brault said. “He just kept putting it down and I wasn’t shaking, so it was Stalls. It wasn’t me. Thanks, Stalls.”

With Brault's pitch count at 96 entering the ninth inning, Shelton sent the lefty to the mound while Richard Rodríguez warmed up in the bullpen. Brault said he “purposely never went anywhere near” Shelton, not wanting the manager to think about taking him out of the game. Brault got Tommy Edman to ground out, struck out Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt, and then embraced Stallings in front of the mound before a bunch of other teammates joined in.

“He’s a great person, man. He’s such a good guy. You want to see him [be] successful every day,” right fielder Gregory Polanco said. “You want to see him doing good. I feel so happy for that guy. It was unbelievable today.”

Polanco, whose confounding season is emblematic of Pittsburgh’s enigmatic offense, doubled and crushed a three-run homer off lefty Austin Gomber in the fourth inning. Coming off a series in which they totaled 45 strikeouts in 32 innings, the Pirates scratched out nine hits, drew five walks and struck out three times on the night.

“It was by far the best we’ve played throughout the game,” Shelton said. “It was the most well-played game we’ve had all year long in terms of everything.”

Roster move
Just before Thursday’s series opener, the Pirates placed outfielder  on the seven-day concussion injured list and recalled corner infielder/outfielder  from their alternate training site.

Shelton said that Tucker’s injury did not take place during Wednesday night’s game. He was taken out of the lineup before the bottom of the eighth inning in their 1-0 loss to the Reds on Wednesday, but that was seemingly just to get Stallings in the lineup after Bryan Reynolds pinch-hit for John Ryan Murphy in the top of the eighth.

“Tucker fell last night and hit his head. That’s why he’s on the concussion IL. Did not happen during the game. He slipped underneath. Spikes gave out, and he hit his head,” Shelton said. “He slipped and hit his head. Obviously, anytime you have something like that, it’s precautionary. It was just better off that he go on the concussion IL.”