Night after thrilling comeback, Pirates gift one back to Giants

May 23rd, 2024

PITTSBURGH – On Tuesday, the Pirates completed a large rally in the ninth with the aid of a defensive miscue and some timely hitting against a shaky bullpen to beat the Giants in extra innings.

On Wednesday, they returned the favor. A short-manned bullpen could not hold a late lead, resulting in a 9-5, 10-inning loss at PNC Park.

“It was a game that we should have won,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We were right there and we just didn't finish it."

The Pirates appeared to be set up for success after Bryan Reynolds capped off a five-run fourth inning with a grand slam, but the Giants bullpen went on to retire 19 straight batters to give themselves a chance to chip away, and they did.

Jared Jones turned in another quality start, but a two-run homer by Matt Chapman in the sixth brought the Giants back to within striking distance. Jones had done well navigating with men on base for most of his six innings, getting three double plays, but Chapman was able to pull a fastball that was up and away.

"I threw the pitches I needed to throw when I needed to throw them,” said Jones. “Obviously, I need to get better at throwing certain pitches in tight spots where that could end up costing us the ballgame. I think that's what happened. I don't give up that home run to Chapman if I throw a better pitch, [and] we probably walk away with a win."

Jones was still able to go six innings of three-run ball, giving some quality innings before turning it over to a shorthanded bullpen. David Bednar was unavailable after pitching three of the last four games, as was Luis Ortiz after going 2 2/3 innings Tuesday.

That meant it was sequenced for a Hunter Stratton, Aroldis Chapman and Colin Holderman finale. The issue was the middle of that trio.

After a quick seventh by Stratton, Chapman threw 12 straight balls to walk the bases loaded before being pulled in the eighth. It’s not the first time Chapman has had control issues, as his 11.5 walks per nine innings and 27% walk rate are the highest among all pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched.

This is especially concerning for a bullpen that was viewed as perhaps the team’s greatest strength coming into the year. Instead, their win probability added is just 0.47, according to FanGraphs, which puts them in the bottom half of the league. Chapman is the most lucrative free agent signing this team has made since the 2017-2018, and he has not been the premier setup man they envisioned him being.

That forced Holderman to be summoned in the eighth, and while he was able to escape that first frame with only one inherited runner scoring, it put him in a spot to have to try to get a six-out save, something he had never attempted in the Majors.

“I didn't really know until I came back in,” Holderman said. “They were like, 'You want it?' Of course I want it. That's who I want to be.”

The ninth started smoothly, getting two quick outs and pulling to within a strike against Luis Matos, but he singled to left and advanced a base after Reynolds bobbled the ball. LaMonte Wade Jr. would then single him home to tie the game.

Carmen Mlodzinski was able to clean up the ninth, but was tagged for four runs in extras, which started with another walk. As a team, the Pirates’ bullpen has an 11.3% walk rate, the fifth-highest in the Majors.

"We have to put the ball on the plate more,” Shelton said. “I think that's the thing. The walks are something that hurt us. And I know we gave up the hits but the reason we were in those situations was because of the walks.”

The Pirates could potentially shake up their bullpen a bit for the finale Thursday to add another arm, but the number of available pitchers wasn’t the only issue Wednesday. Chapman and Mlodzinski didn’t execute when they needed to, and when the team expected them to coming into the year.

If there is any way to look at the glass half-full, it’s that they have a chance at redemption and the series Thursday.

“We had some late-inning magic yesterday and they did today,” Holderman said. “We live and die by it. We've got a series [finale] tomorrow, so we'll see how it goes and try to take the series."