PHOENIX — This was supposed to be a series where the Pirates could gain some traction, especially coming off a weekend where they won two of three against the Mets. Facing the worst-in-baseball Diamondbacks, the only National League club with a worse run differential, Pittsburgh had a chance to string two quality series together.
It didn’t happen.
Arizona used a pair of seventh-inning homers off Duane Underwood Jr. to complete the sweep with a 6-4 victory at Chase Field on Wednesday, sending the Pirates into an off-day with plenty they’ll need to correct after three games here.
Wednesday featured the third MLB start by Max Kranick, but it did not include the version of him who delivered five perfect innings in his debut. This Kranick left some pitches over the middle of the plate and needed 74 pitches to get nine outs.
Also, the bullpen. That group was solid Monday, really struggled Tuesday and fell somewhere in the middle on Wednesday.
The Pirates have also made a habit of getting men on base and doing nothing with it. They had 11 hits Wednesday, their seventh consecutive game with at least 10, but they also went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 10.
The decisive sequence came within a span of four pitches in the bottom of the seventh inning. With Duane Underwood Jr. pitching, Diamondbacks first baseman Pavin Smith and center fielder Daulton Varsho both cranked solo home runs, putting Arizona in front for good.
Smith attacked a 1-0 changeup that Underwood left middle-middle sending it 432 feet into the right-field seas. Varsho got a fastball at the top of the zone and hit one a mile high, the ball landing just beyond the right-field fence.
Like many members of the Pirates bullpen, it’s sort of tough to believe that Underwood Jr. was nearly unhittable earlier this season, when he had a 2.08 ERA over his first nine appearances. But that certainly hasn’t been the case lately, with Underwood Jr. pitching to a 5.68 ERA over his past 21.
Chasing a one-run deficit in the seventh inning, the Pirates created a 4-4 tie thanks to a bases-loaded walk from John Nogowski, who hit his first career home run on Tuesday night. After Adam Frazier, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds all stroked one-out singles, Nogowski drew a four-pitch walk off Diamondbacks Brett de Geus.
That was it, however, as the Pirates failed to push another run across. The next batter, Jacob Stallings, hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Pirates grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second thanks to a run-scoring single from Jared Oliva, who played at the University of Arizona 2015-17 and hit .321 with 54 RBIs in 59 games as a junior before the Pirates drafted him in the seventh round that summer.
Oliva got an elevated fastball from Madison Bumgarner and lined it the opposite way into right to score Gregory Polanco, who reached on an infield single and swiped second, his team-high 10th stolen base of the year. The base hit helped Oliva improve to 6 for his past 14 at-bats, while he's also reached base in six of his last seven games with a plate appearance.
Arizona answered in the bottom half of the inning, when catcher Bryan Holaday drove an elevated sinker into left-center to score first baseman Pavin Smith.
The Diamondbacks to a brief, 2-1 lead on left fielder David Peralta’s double down the line in the third before The Pirates scored twice on a ball Oliva hit that was originally scored a double but later changed to an error on third baseman Eduardo Escobar.
Arizona pulled ahead once again in the fourth, when it knocked Max Kranick out of the game and Pirates pitchers again struggled to throw strikes. Kranick coughed up back-to-back doubles to start, the second one — off the bat of Nick Ahmed — a ball that Gregory Polanco should have caught.
After Kranick hit Holaday and walked Bumgarner to load the bases, Pirates manager Derek Shelton had seen enough and went to his bullpen.
Austin Davis, who was one of two Pirates pitchers who struggled to throw strikes and left way too much over the heart of the plate on Tuesday, got a softly hit grounder to second before walking right fielder Kole Calhoun to push Arizona in front, 4-3.©2021 PG Publishing Co. Visit at post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.