PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates returned home after a 1-5 start to the season, but they earned a convincing series win to begin their first homestand with a 7-1 victory on Sunday afternoon vs. the Cubs at PNC Park.
“To play well and to do what we did and to come out and break out offensively, I think [it helped],” manager Derek Shelton said. “I think we had some guys that needed these at-bats.”
What went right in the series, and what will the Bucs need to try to carry over into a series against the loaded Padres beginning Monday?
Twenty-one of the Pirates’ 27 hits in the series were singles. Some were ripped, some were grounders and some barely traveled 20 feet.
No clearer was the “put it in play, good things happen” mentality more evident than the at-bats from JT Brubaker. The Pirates’ pitcher recorded his first Major League hit on Wednesday in Cincinnati, then recorded his first two Major League RBIs on Sunday with a single up the right-field line as Pittsburgh once again used the second inning to cement a lead.
“I think that was the important thing,” Shelton said. “It wasn’t hard contact, but he made contact and beat a ball into the ground, and we were able to score another run, which was outstanding.”
2) Control freak
The Pirates’ starters gave away free bases at an alarming rate in their first two series, allowing 18 free passes in six games -- despite Trevor Cahill not issuing a walk in his season debut.
With Mitch Keller and Brubaker penciled in for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, it was worth asking how the two would attack the zone after allowing four walks each in their first starts of the season. But both responded in stride, walking only one batter each while combining for 11 strikeouts.
“Getting outs in the zone, that's been the goal for our entire staff,” Brubaker said. “Let's attack hitters and get outs in the zone. I think that as long as we can continue that mentality, that's what it's gonna look like for series, multiple series."
Keller was more about fastball command, an issue he’s dealt with as he continues to adjust to being a Major League pitcher. Saturday was the clearest sign he’s broken through, not just because of the walks total, but the consistency of his release point.
For Brubaker, a large part of his journey has been learning to trust in his stuff and know that it plays. That includes his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, which he’s sprinkled in based on gameplan design; he threw more sinkers vs. the Reds, then he threw more fastballs vs. the Cubs.
"Four-seam felt good coming out of my hand,” Brubaker said. “Two-seam was hit or miss at times. Let a couple weak arm-side in, got a couple guys there. It felt good.”
3) Take away mistakes
In their first two series, the Pirates committed eight errors in the field and made some easy plays into tougher plays. But in their first home series, they weren’t charged with a single error.
In fact, the defense made some stellar plays with regularity. Evans snared a 110.5 mph grounder from David Bote on a turn for the third out in the seventh inning, then made a similar play the next inning on a grounder from Kris Bryant, which had an expected batting average of .540. Dustin Fowler snagged a deep fly ball from Matt Duffy in the seventh despite getting a slow jump.
For a team that needs the little things to go right, they’re trending in the right direction.
“Fundamentally, we played better, and we have to do that,” Shelton said. “We have to continue to get better. We have to continue to do things like that.”