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Four takeaways from Bucs' third straight win

Simplified at-bats; starters gain trust; a pinch of Osuna, a dash of Marte
June 22, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates started to feel the momentum turn in a positive direction last weekend in Miami, Chris Archer said, when they won two out of three games at Marlins Park to snap out of a seven-game losing streak. Whether it began last weekend, Wednesday night or this weekend,

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates started to feel the momentum turn in a positive direction last weekend in Miami, Chris Archer said, when they won two out of three games at Marlins Park to snap out of a seven-game losing streak.

Whether it began last weekend, Wednesday night or this weekend, things finally seem to be falling back into place for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to beat the Padres, 6-3, on Saturday afternoon at PNC Park. They have won three straight games, their first three-game winning streak since May 17-19 in San Diego, and five of their last seven since their long losing streak ended.

Box score

“We’re trending in the right direction,” Archer said.

Here are four takeaways from the Pirates’ third straight victory.

1) They kept it simple

In the fourth inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with nobody out against starter Chris Paddack and came up empty when Colin Moran popped out and Corey Dickerson grounded into a double play.

They made up for it in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded again and one out against San Diego setup man Craig Stammen, Adam Frazier delivered a tie-breaking single up the middle before Elias Díaz and Jung Ho Kang each drove in a run to pad Pittsburgh’s lead.

Rather than take big swings and aim for the seats, Frazier knocked the ball back up the middle. So did Diaz on his RBI single. With a runner on third, Kang launched a sacrifice fly to deep center. The key? They didn’t try to do too much.

“That’s exactly what I was trying to do. In the past this year, I’ve tried to get too big instead of making the pitcher come to me,” Frazier said. “He’s the one in the tough spot, so just shorten up, get back in there and make him come to me. It felt pretty good.”

2) They’re good in a pinch

On Friday night, Jose Osuna recorded the go-ahead hit in an unusual role: starting third baseman. He got back to normal on Saturday, coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter with Jacob Stallings on first base and one out in the fifth. He’s changed his routine this season to get more comfortable in those spots, knowing he might only get one pitch to hit before heading back to the dugout.

Osuna saw exactly one pitch, a 92.5-mph fastball from Paddack, and he drove it back at 102 mph over the fence in right-center field to put the Bucs ahead, 2-1. It was Osuna’s third pinch-hit homer of the season and the fifth of his career.

“He’s done a nice job for us, and it’s a hard job to do,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

As a team, Pittsburgh’s pinch-hitters rank first in the NL in batting average (.321), on-base percentage (.387), slugging percentage (.575) and RBIs (28).

3) The starters trusted their stuff

Getting healthy will help the Pirates’ rotation, as Trevor Williams is back on the starting staff. Getting more starts like this from Joe Musgrove (seven innings, one run on Friday) and Archer (five innings, two hits, one run) will also go a long way.

The only blemish on Archer’s line was a home run. Manny Machado launched a changeup 432 feet out to left field to lead off the fourth inning, the second straight day he hit a solo shot to start that frame. Archer has allowed 18 home runs this season, one shy of his 2018 total, and he’s given up at least one home run in each of his last 10 starts.

Otherwise, Archer minimized the damage the Padres did against him. He allowed only one other hit and walked three batters, one of them intentionally, while striking out five. He could have been more efficient, as he needed 85 pitches to complete five innings, but he likely would have gotten a chance to get through the sixth had the scoring opportunity that turned into Osuna’s pinch-hit homer not presented itself.

Archer ditched his two-seam fastball on Saturday and leaned on his four-seamer and slider while mixing in a handful of changeups. He said he learned a lot from watching Musgrove and from talking to him in the clubhouse dining room before the game. That helped the two starters hold a hot-hitting Padres lineup to a combined two runs on seven hits in 12 innings to start the series.

“Just trusting our stuff, being who we are, not deviating from what makes us successful,” Archer said.

4) Marte showed his ‘special’ speed

Frazier came through with the big hit in the eighth, but Starling Marte got the rally started.

The speedy center fielder, batting .342 with a 1.010 OPS in June, hit a 100.7-mph line drive off Stammen and past right fielder Josh Naylor. As the ball bounced off the Clemente Wall, Marte kicked it into overdrive and sped around second base for a leadoff triple.

Afterward, Hurdle said there are only a few players in baseball who could have turned that ball into a triple. Archer was even more effusive in his praise.

“I’ve said this to a bunch of guys on the team: Starling Marte is the most talented person every time he touches the field. Doesn’t matter who the other team has,” Archer said. “All the tools, he’s going to grade out better than anyone else on the other side. Arm strength, obviously 100 mph. Speed, elite. He has pop. He can hit for average.

“He’s a special player. He changes the dynamic of our lineup. He can bunt for a base hit or he can go deep. He can hit a triple that was supposed to be a single. Starling Marte is one of my favorite players in the league to watch.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.