Priester trusts process, finds groove after rough frame

May 15th, 2024

MILWAUKEE – Pirates right-hander got some run support for the first time while on the mound in any of his starts this season, but an otherwise stellar outing on Tuesday night was undone by a rough second inning in which he was tagged for six hits and four runs as the Brewers sent nine batters to the plate.

To Priester’s credit, he bounced back from the rough inning and retired nine consecutive batters, giving up only one hit the rest of the way in a six-inning outing in which he threw 93 pitches (67 strikes).

The Brewers failed to score after the second but held on to beat the Pirates, 4-3.

“I thought he was sharp,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “The second inning, he had struggles and gave up the runs but after that it was probably as sharp as we’ve seen him. But we’ve got to eliminate the big inning.”

Priester’s pitch execution has faltered at times during his five starts this season, Shelton said.

“We’ve got to make sure that we minimize [big] innings. That’s been the one thing he’s battled in all of his starts, even dating back to last year,” he said.

Priester fell to 0-4 on the season but continues to show that he has the potential to be an important cog in the rotation.

“Obviously, I needed to do things better in that second, but after that I was proud of how I settled in and battled,” Priester said.

Following the rough patch in the second, Priester got some sage words of advice from battery mate Yasmani Grandal in the dugout.

“Yaz came up to me and told me to stop worrying about being too perfect and trust my stuff,” Priester said. “I was feeling that confidence and was just able to ride it.”

Priester said he was focused on throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters when things went awry in the second.

“I was just missing a little bit over the plate. Those guys are a really good team, and they took advantage of the mistakes I was making,” he said. “I wasn’t walking guys, so the problem was where the pitches were and the pitch selection. The stuff was there but I need to avoid the big inning.”

The 23-year-old got to pitch in front of several members of his family and his girlfriend who cheered him on from the stands at American Family Field after they drove to Milwaukee from neighboring Illinois.

“It was so nice to see familiar faces. Some aunts and uncles that I don’t get to normally see, and little cousins,” he said. “It’s awesome being able to play near home and feel all that support. I assume that every time I’m here, they’ll make the trip.”

A night after tagging Brewers pitching for eight runs and 13 hits, the Pirates managed just three hits on Tuesday night against four Brewers pitchers, including starter Joe Ross (2-4).

Nick Gonzales hit his first homer of the season, a two-run blast in the fourth to cut the Brewers lead to 4-2. Gonzales hadn’t homered since July 2 of last season against the Brewers.

“It felt good. I got a good pitch to hit,” he said.

Connor Joe hit his sixth home run, a solo shot with two outs in the ninth to cut the margin to a single run. Oneil Cruz doubled in the fourth for the Pirates’ only other hit. Cruz has now hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games against the Brewers and is riding an eight-game hitting streak, the longest by a Pirates player this season.

Ross limited the Pirates to two hits in five innings using an effective slider and showing high-level velocity that caught Bucs batters a bit off-guard.

“That surprised us a little bit. It was 95 and sat at 95 and he was able to execute at the top of the zone,” Shelton said. “Overall, it was the slider that was most effective. Then, you get to the back end of their bullpen and it’s really good. [Bryan] Hudson came in and he’s funky and did a good job and then you get [Elvis] Peguero and [Trevor] Megill at the end. Those are two power arms that don’t give up a lot of hard contact.”

The teams have split the first two games of the series, which concludes on Wednesday afternoon. The Pirates have dropped 12 of their last 17 games away from PNC Park.