WASHINGTON -- The Pirates recorded their longest losing streak since July 29-Aug. 7, 2011, with their 10th consecutive loss Wednesday, falling to the Nats, 3-1, at Nationals Park.
During the skid, the Pirates had chances. Nine of the losses were determined by three or fewer runs -- two by a single run. The same can be said for their latest setback: Pittsburgh had a chance.
Starting pitcher Chase De Jong held the Nationals to one run -- a home run to Yan Gomes in the bottom of the second inning -- on just four hits. But despite the strong performance, manager Derek Shelton pulled the righty after four innings. De Jong struck out five batters in the shortest of his four starts this season. He tossed 71 pitches, 44 of them strikes, and recorded 12 swings and misses.
“What he said had merit,” De Jong said regarding Shelton’s decision to pull him after four innings. “I know that, in that situation, it’s a laborsome inning. We got through it. We didn’t let anybody score. At that point, OK, I did my job. I kept my team in the game and -- where he explained to me, that if we give up a base hit there, a couple runs, the momentum of the game drastically switches. He’s right. We had to really dig down and get through that. Once we did, then that’s his call, 'You gave us everything you got and now we’re going to give it over to the bullpen.' That’s his call.”
De Jong was the first Pirate to notch a hit against Nationals starter Paolo Espino. He roped a four-seam fastball into left-center field for a double, his first Major League hit.
With Pittsburgh struggling to score runs, Shelton needed to create run-scoring opportunities -- which he did when pinch-hitting Ka'ai Tom for De Jong in the top of the fifth inning.
“I think in that last inning -- the fourth -- if [De Jong] doesn't empty the tank there and grind through it then we're not sitting at a 1-0 game,” said Shelton of his starter’s performance. “He did a really good job. One thing we asked of him was, ‘You’ve got to grind through,’ and I thought he did a really nice job doing that. He gave us a chance to win the game. He came out of the game in a 1-0, a perfect spot for [Chasen] Shreve.”
The Pirates' bullpen has been called upon early almost all season, with starting pitchers averaging just 4.8 innings. What used to be a bright spot for the team has drastically changed over the last 10 games. Before the losing streak began, the Pirates’ bullpen ranked 11th in MLB with a 3.76 ERA. Entering Wednesday’s contest, they have fallen to 21st in the Major Leagues with a 4.70 ERA.
“We had two starts where we had to use the bullpen early in games in the Brewers series,” Shelton said when asked if fatigue could factor in the bullpen’s decline. “The big factor is [that] we have given up some home runs. They have definitely been a strength of ours [and] they will continue to be a strength of ours. ... The pitches that we have not executed have been hit out of the ballpark, and when that happens the ERA goes up quickly.”
Chris Stratton loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowing a single and two walks, but the Nats were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. An inning later, David Bednar threw a four-seam fastball right over the plate to former Pirate Josh Bell which resulted in a two-run homer to widen the gap for Washington.
However, the decision Shelton made ultimately doesn’t matter when the offense cannot put runs on the board. The Pirates got on base, but when it came to timely hitting they fell short. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a struggle during the 10-game skid -- and it was no different Wednesday, with Pittsburgh going 2-for-7 in such situations. During the skid, the Pirates have hit a mere .141 with runners in scoring position -- before the skid, their average was .212.
“It was good for us to show some life there,” said Bryan Reynolds regarding his RBI single in the eighth inning. “We’re down right now, but we showed that we can string some hits together and score some runs. We just have to try and do it a little more consistently.
"It’s a tough time. When things start going south, you might tend to mess with your approach a little bit. I think the off-day [Thursday] will be good for us to reset, clear our minds and formulate a good plan for the upcoming series.”