Anderson gives up slam; Bucs lose to Nats

June 16th, 2021

Before could record the second out of his start on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, the Nats had already put the game out of reach.

Anderson allowed an RBI single to Josh Harrison and a grand slam to Yan Gomes as part of a five-run first inning for the home team, handing the Pirates too large a deficit to overcome in the 8-1 loss to the Nationals. It extended Pittsburgh’s season-worst losing streak to nine games.

Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Juan Soto singled in succession to load the bases with no outs against Anderson. He struck out Ryan Zimmerman before serving up the crucial knocks, including the critical strike from Gomes on an inside fastball.

“In that situation you’re trying to force contact, because you don’t want to walk anybody,” Anderson said. “So I thought it was pretty good [location-wise]. I think I could have gotten it over maybe another inch or two to make it a little safer, but it looked like he was looking for a heater there.”

Five runs in the first inning is the most allowed by the southpaw since Aug. 26, 2018, when the Cardinals tagged him for six runs.

Of the six hits off Anderson in the first inning, only the slam by Gomes -- which went a Statcast-projected 400 feet -- was hit hard. The rest weren’t only under the 95-mph threshold for a “hard hit,” but all five were lower than 85 mph. It was the unfortunate case of a few bloops and a blast.

“The pitches he made in the first weren’t bad pitches,” manager Derek Shelton said. “[The Nats] were just aggressive and put them in front of our outfield. Then, after that, he maybe went a little bit farther off the plate, maybe a little bit better execution, but the first inning was more about the grand slam than anything else.”

However, only one of Anderson's pitches in the first was on the edges. The rest were far from being center-cut pitches, and with Anderson’s heavy fastball mix with below-average velocity, it’s not too surprising that a Nationals team with some exceptional hitters squared them up for hits.

Anderson is in Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. Naturally, he is a key player in trade speculation surrounding a team that will clearly be a seller at the Trade Deadline on July 30. With each start will likely come more scrutiny from contending teams for Anderson, who has had highs and lows in equal measure this season.

Even with a couple of lopsided outings, Anderson has demonstrated a few things that have continued to make him a valuable part of the Pirates' season. He’s gone at least five innings in each of his 13 starts. In fact, he was able to navigate through six on Tuesday despite the tough start to the game.

“I think in a situation like that, your job is to -- I don’t want to say not change anything, because you don’t want to do that again, but some of the pitches were maybe up a little bit,” Anderson said. “Just try to get them back down into better locations.”

Anderson has also shown he’s never content with where his arsenal stands. He’s always trying to improve his game, and he’s been working through some changes to his pitch grips -- particularly his changeup. It took a couple of innings for him to get a great feel for it, but the strides to Anderson’s changeup showed with six whiffs, the most induced by any pitch on the night from the lefty.

“I felt like the seams on these balls are a little bit higher, so when you grab them for my changeup, nothing was catching,” Anderson said. “So I was just kind of all year battling that, and I worked on some grip stuff this week, to work on some new grips, hopefully get a little more fade on it.”

But even with some minor breakthroughs to his pitches, that first inning stings. To break out of their slump, the Pirates are going to have to avoid those high-scoring innings as best they can; in three of their past five losses, they’ve had an inning of five runs or more allowed that has flipped the script on their chances to punch a win.

“If we avoid and limit damage in that one big inning, I think we’ll be OK,” Anderson said.