And that’s what the Pittsburgh Pirates have done through the first two months of the season.
The Pirates pitching staff has saved an offense that ranks in the bottom third in runs scored and average. Without a staff that ranked third behind St. Louis and Cincinnati with a 3.23 ERA and first in holding opponents to a .224 batting average, Pittsburgh’s 35-23 record going into Tuesday’s game likely would have been reversed.
Pittsburgh recorded a pair of shutouts last week against the powerful Detroit Tigers, giving it nine on the year, and tied for the most in the major leagues.
In a game on May 28 at Detroit, Jeanmar Gomez threw seven shutout innings as the Pirates won 1-0 after Neil Walker hit a home run in the top of the 11th. On May 30, Jeff Locke extended his scoreless innings streak to 19 1/3 innings, pitching into the sixth. The Pirates also won that game 1-0 in 11 innings, this time on a walk-off single in the 11th by Russell Martin.
Locke and Gomez are part of a rotation that includes A.J. Burnett, who has the second-most strikeouts in baseball, Wandy Rodriguez (6-3, 3.47) and Francisco Liriano (3-2, 2.17), who had 11 strikeouts in six innings pitched of a 2-0 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday.
The bullpen has also been solid behind Jason Grilli, a closer who led the majors in saves with 22 through Saturday’s games, and Mark Melancon, who had the most holds with 18. Pittsburgh’s relievers ranked first in the major leagues with a 2.67 ERA, and have contributed to the staff being among the stingiest with runners in scoring position.
“You’ve really got to like our chances anytime a starter comes out and hands the ball to the bullpen,” Locke told MLB.com. “They’ve been fantastic this year.”
Grilli and Locke have been a major part of the Pirates success.
In last Tuesday’s game, Grilli entered in the bottom of the 11th at Comerica Park facing Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The former Tiger struck out all three of the dangerous hitters.
“That’s as good as it gets in any lineup in the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s why you have a closer.”
Grilli also got the save last Wednesday, a 5-3 win, during a four-game, home and away series against the Tigers with Pittsburgh winning three of those contests.
“That’s a great offense, and Miguel Cabrera is probably the best hitter in baseball right now,” Grilli said. “So I was trying to not make a big mistake, but you can’t spend much time thinking about that. You just go out there and win the game.”
Hunter says Grilli is a “different pitcher now.”
“He’s smart and he’s got a little deception going,” Hunter said. “He jumps out at you, and before you know it, the ball is gone.”
Locke, who is 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA, has been outstanding.
“The confidence is there that I never had before, and that’s the big difference,” Locke said after beating Milwaukee 5-2 on May 25.
“Once he got ahead, he was able to do basically whatever he needed to,” Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “Expand, get them to chase, be able to waste some pitches. He kept them guessing, kept mixing his pitches well.”
Locke, in his third year with the Pirates at the age of 25, hasn’t allowed a run since the fifth inning of a May 14 start against the Brewers.
“It’s the thing that you look for out of players to see them grow up right before your eyes,” Hurdle said. “It’s kind of like marking (the height of) that kid off in the hallway at home.
“He’s growing up.”
Now all the Pirates pitching staff can ask of the offense is to score a few more runs for them. Pittsburgh was shut out in consecutive games against Cincinnati and had scored just seven runs in five games going into Sunday.
StatsWatch: Here are the major leagues’ ERA leaders, through Monday’s games –
- Clay Buchholz, Red Sox, 1.62
- Shelby Miller, Cardinals, 1.82
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 1.85
- Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks, 2.06
- Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners, 2.13
- Matt Harvey, Mets, 2.17
- Matt Moore, Rays, 2.18
- Jeff Locke, Pirates, 2.25
- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, 2.33
- Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals, 2.37
Copyright © 2013 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.