Bucs' bats awake to bury Cubs, back Keller

April 11th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The Bucs’ batters finally found their swing.

After being held to only 14 runs over a six-game losing streak, the Pirates erupted in the second inning on Saturday, scoring seven times to fuel an 8-2 win over the Cubs at PNC Park. And it came with the help of a few key players placed strategically throughout the team’s lineup.

The Pirates loaded the bases in quick order with a walk by , a double by Erik Gonzalez and a walk by Gregory Polanco. Then, the first runs came courtesy of .

The Pirates catcher has provided exceptional defense and game calling for the young pitching staff, which has raved about his work. But he said this spring he’s hoping to make more of an impact offensively.

“I think I was getting a little annoyed, more so with the lack of results just because I felt like I was putting together good at-bats,” Stallings said of his 3-for-16 start to the season before Saturday. “But I think my strikeout-to-walk [ratio] is 1-1 right now, which I would take every year of my career. So I’m just trying to have quality at-bats and get in a good position to hit on time.”

Stallings did just that in his first at-bat, ripping a 100.5 mph single to left field to score the Pirates’ first two runs.

Next up in the run-producing column came , who said he’s trying to get off to a quicker start than he has in years past. Though Frazier entered the game with a .227 batting average, he also touted a .370 on-base percentage, which manager Derek Shelton said is a sign he’s doing many of the right things for a leadoff batter.

“I think a lot of people get caught up in batting average, but he's got more walks than he does strikeouts,” Shelton said. “I think he's walked five or six times and he's had consistent at-bats. The hits are going to come.”

A timely hit came on Saturday in the second inning, when Frazier pulled a two-out double up the right-field line to score Polanco. Bryan Reynolds followed two batters later with a ground-rule double to score and Frazier, and Moran came back up once more.

Moran, who reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, came through with a two-run single to cap the eruption. It was no surprise that it was the Pirates first baseman who bookended the lopsided inning. He’s worked deep into counts throughout the early going this season, helping him post a .379 on-base percentage before Saturday’s jolt to .441.

“He is having our best at-bats and most consistent at-bats, or one of the two guys that's having our most consistent at-bats,” Shelton said. “He's not really going out of the hitting zone, and I think we've seen that throughout the first seven games.”

The cushion was more than enough to support Keller, who had one of the best all-around outings of his career to score his first win at PNC Park. Keller cleaned up his control issues to strike out seven batters while only walking Ian Happ to lead off the game. He also reached back and hit 97.5 mph on the gun in the fourth inning, his fastest pitch since Sept. 17, 2019.

Keller said it was great to see his teammates perform at the plate, but it didn’t change his approach to what he wanted to do -- namely, command the high-zone fastball and attack the plate.

“Especially after a seven-run, the next thing I want to do when I go out there is get a shutdown inning and come back with another zero and have it be a quick inning,” Keller said.

The unsurprising part of this young season came in the sixth inning, when Phillip Evans hit a solo homer to the bullpen with his family in the stands. He now leads the team with three home runs.

But it was what happened in the second inning that the Pirates needed after going through an inconsistent stretch of scoring to begin the season. Now, the team will try to harness the consistency it found and carry it through the rest of the homestand.

“We really didn't get outside of our approach, which was nice to see, and I think that's why the inning was able to maintain and lengthen out,” Shelton said.