Pirates' offense struggles again, Mitch Keller hit hard in 8-2 loss to Reds

Mike Persak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Baseball

PITTSBURGH — In the fourth and fifth innings of Friday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates’ offense had fleeting chances to mount a comeback.

With a one-run deficit, designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach led off the fourth with a double. Michael Chavis, Jack Suwinski and Diego Castillo stranded him there, recording a groundout, flyout and strikeout, respectively. The Reds added a pair of runs to extend their lead in the fifth, before the Pirates put runners on the corners with two outs for center fielder Bryan Reynolds. He weakly bounced out to the shortstop.

The Pirates’ pitching left much to be desired in what ultimately ended as an 8-2 loss, but futile at-bats with runners in scoring position told a large part of the story, too. More to the point, they became the most recent examples in an alarming trend for the team.

After Friday’s effort, the Pirates are now just 5 for 52 with runners in scoring position since May 4, and 6 for 58 in those situations in the month of May as a whole. In a perfect world, Reynolds would be the team’s main run producer. On the season, though, he is a paltry 1 for 25 with a runner on second or third.

For a team that has struggled to consistently produce on offense anyway, without a ton of power in the lineup, these numbers are important.

Plus, in terms of the runs the Pirates need to compete in a given game, the bar is low. Already this season, they are 0-18 when scoring fewer than four runs, and 17-1 when scoring four runs or more. In other words, cashing in on one or two opportunities with runners in scoring position can make a world of difference.

To be fair, in this game at least, it would have taken much more than four runs. The Reds hit right-hander Mitch Keller extremely hard and right from the jump. On the surface, he allowed five earned runs, two on a back-breaking double in the top of the fifth. The game raised his season ERA above 6.61, a far cry from the progress he had hoped to make this season.


While all of that is bad enough, it doesn’t quite show the extent of the Reds’ hard contact. In total, Keller faced 21 batters in his 4 2/3 innings. He walked two of them, and the other 19 put the ball in play. Of those 19 balls in play, 11 of them had an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or higher, the threshold that constitutes a statistically “hard hit” ball.

Things got worse for the Pirates’ pitching staff in the seventh, when right-hander Heath Hembree entered. He allowed four separate balls with an exit velocity above 100 mph. Two of them left the yard, scoring three runs and putting the game well out of reach. It marked the Reds’ ninth win of the season, the fewest in the National League this season. The Pirates are responsible for four of them in five games.

Really, this one started well for the Pirates, too. Left fielder Ben Gamel led off the bottom of the first with a home run that barely cleared the Clemente Wall in right, marking the first leadoff homer of his career. He is one of the lone Pirates on fire at the plate, having entered Friday’s game slashing .359/.414/.516 in his last previous 19 games. Those numbers have risen even further after a 2-for-4 night with a homer.

Gamel’s second hit came in the third, a single into right center. After a wild pitch advanced Gamel to second, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes drove him in with a double down the left-field line. It was the team’s lone hit with runners in scoring position.

For everything else that transpired, that is a vital problem the Pirates have struggled to solve.

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