PITTSBURGH -- JT Brubaker came out of the dugout shoving in Sunday’s series finale against the Indians en route to one of the best starts of his young MLB career.
Brubaker held Cleveland without a baserunner through 4 1/3 innings, but he ended up tagged with two runs -- one that ended the perfect-game bid, and one charged to him after he exited -- that handed him and the Pirates a 2-1 loss at PNC Park.
The Indians came out aggressively from the get-go, and Brubaker was able to get his first three outs on only four pitches. With Cleveland swinging freely, he and catcher Jacob Stallings were able to mask his best pitch early on and turn to the rest of his arsenal.
“We didn’t really have to show them the slider too much, which we were able to do the second and third time through,” Stallings said. “I thought that was really big for him and us.”
The slider became a weapon for Brubaker as he grew into his start. He drew 11 whiffs on the pitch, which is the third most in a single start in his career.
Brubaker retired 13 batters in a row before Harold Ramirez got out in front of an inside four-seamer with two strikes and sent it over the left-field wall for his third homer in less than 24 hours against the Pirates.
“I felt like I executed, but also at the same time, he’s a guy who hit two home runs yesterday on the inner-half on sliders,” Brubaker said. “He knew it was coming, probably.”
The Pirates’ right-hander recovered by setting down six of the next seven batters in order, but then he allowed a double to Eddie Rosario with one out in the seventh. Manager Derek Shelton let Brubaker stay in to face Ramirez, who grounded out to second base, but Brubaker had a sense of what was coming.
“I took a peek out in the bullpen, saw that we had [Chasen] Shreve and [Clay] Holmes warming up,” Brubaker said. “I knew I needed to get Ramirez, and thought once I got Ramirez, I had a chance of facing Naylor. But then once I saw Shelty come out, I knew it was a situational pull.”
The skipper lifted Brubaker to go left on left with Shreve, who entered the game with a 1.84 ERA this season, against Josh Naylor, and Shreve immediately gave up the go-ahead run on a weakly hit single up the middle.
“Shreve has been so good for us,” Stallings said. “Naylor just kind of hit a ground ball that found a hole. I thought the pitch was pretty well executed -- not perfect but pretty well. Our bullpen has just been so good, and my emotion is, I feel good every time we hand it over to the bullpen.”
The lack of offense on Sunday, after two free-swinging games, magnified the decision, which led to boos from the home crowd even before Brubaker had trotted back to the dugout. Shelton went to the bullpen aggressively a few times in the Pirates’ series against the Brewers and Nationals, including pulling Wil Crowe one batter into the sixth inning last Sunday after letting him hit with the bases loaded.
Part of it has been situations. Part of it has been long innings. Shelton goes back and revisits every game and sees what he could have done differently, if anything. And he’s fine if the fans disagree.
“That's good,” Shelton said. “They wanted him to stay in the game. I understand that. I made the decision that I thought was the best decision for us at the time.”
But with a series win in hand after a 10-game losing streak, the Pirates aren’t too down on themselves, even less so after seeing Brubaker rebound from a few tough outings. He now owns the lowest ERA on the Pirates’ starting staff at 3.77.
“He was really good,” Stallings said. “It was fun catching him. We played good defense behind him, and he obviously made pretty good pitches. So, it was fun to be back there with him today.”