Pirates lose to Mets, settle for split of 4-game series
Employing a lineup watered down by injuries and days off, the Pirates lost to the last-place New York Mets on Sunday in front of 23,749 at PNC Park.
Bad enough that it gave the Mets (44-59) a split of the four-game series while the Pirates are trying to remain in playoff contention. But it also was the first time the Pirates were on the wrong end of a 1-0 decision this season.
How did that happen?
Mets starter Zack Wheeler was dominant for six innings, throwing a splitter among his varied repertoire of pitches. He struck out seven.
Wheeler dug up sour memories for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who remembered having a hard time trying to catch and hit the splitter as a player more than three decades ago.
It also didn’t do much for Hurdle’s current state of mind, considering his team entered the day six games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.
“It’s not a pitch that’s thrown as much as it used to be,” Hurdle said. “There was a time when I was playing, everybody had one. I can remember back being with the Mets trying to catch it. I wasn’t a fan. I wasn’t a fan hitting it, wasn’t a fan catching it.
“He’s got one, and it’s very effective.”
Wheeler allowed only five singles, three by Gregory Polanco, who was the only Pirates player to reach second base. But they also had trouble with relief pitchers Seth Lugo and Anthony Swarzak, who faced the minimum of nine batters over the final three innings. The only successful hitter in that time was Starling Marte, who singled, but he was thrown out trying to steal.
Swarzak recorded his third save of the season, striking out two in the ninth.
It was not the best lineup Hurdle could have assembled, if everyone was healthy and not subject to days off.
Left fielder Corey Dickerson (hamstring) and first baseman Josh Bell (oblique), two of the Pirates’ hottest bats during their recent surge, are on the disabled list. Catcher Francisco Cervelli, whose playing time will be closely monitored as he recovers from his fourth concussion in two years, also didn’t play.
Regular shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Josh Harrison did not play, Harrison missing his second consecutive game with a scheduled day off.
Starting in place of those five were:
• Second baseman Adam Frazier and left fielder Austin Meadows, who have spent part of the season in Triple-A Indianapolis. They were 0 for 7.
• Shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who had one of the Pirates’ six singles but finished the day with a .176 batting average.
• Catcher Elias Diaz and first baseman David Freese, who played for Cervelli and Bell and were a combined 1 for 8.
The only encouraging part of the day was starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (4-5), who also threw a splitter among his five pitches. Musgrove allowed only five hits in seven innings, but one was an RBI double by Wheeler in the fifth inning. It was all Wheeler (5-6) needed.
“Just didn’t execute the pitch very well,” Musgrove said. “A lot middle of the plate. Not where I wanted it to be.”
But that was one of the few mistakes he has made over the past month. He beat the Cleveland Indians, 9-4, last week, shut out the San Diego Padres in June and lasted at least seven innings in four of his past five starts.
Next up for the Pirates is a day off Monday and the trade deadline Tuesday, followed by two games against the Cubs at PNC Park. Even with the loss to the Mets, the Pirates will take a 15-4 record since July 8 into the series.
“I don’t think there’s a better time to face them,” Musgrove said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.