Pirates sink below .500 after suffering 4th consecutive loss
The boos began early and picked up in intensity Friday.
Taunts typically greet Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun prior to his at-bats at PNC Park, with the fans’ rebuke tied to his performance-enhancing drug use. But the “steroid” chants were replaced by cascade of boos reaching a crescendo in the eighth inning as he rounded the bases after redirecting a Neftali Feliz pitch into the center-field bushes.
His second two-run shot of the game gave the Brewers a three-run lead en route to an 8-4 victory.
His 23rd career multi-homer game pushed the Pirates to below .500 for the first time this season and marked yet another sluggish April start for the club, and yet another game when Pirates pitching made too many mistakes.
Two innings earlier, Braun smashed a Kyle Lobstein pitch a third of the way up the batter’s eye in center field to give the Brewers a 5-0 lead.
The jeers then were partly directed at Braun but perhaps also toward a Pirates bullpen that has been vulnerable early this season.
The Pirates allowed the fewest home runs in baseball last season, but have allowed at least one in every game since opening day.
The Pirates have dropped four in a row, allowing a combined 30 runs.
“We need to execute our pitches better, execute our locations better,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
“We needed Feliz to come in in a one-run game and keep us right there. … Leave balls up over the plate, in the middle of the plate, and bad things happen.”
The Pirates can ill-afford many missteps against a retooling club such as the Brewers in an NL Central Division and a league thought to clearly contain teams trying to contend and teams committed to rebuilding.
Frustration continued to build Friday.
The jeers began in the fifth inning when Hurdle walked to the mound and took the ball from Jeff Locke, whose frequent control issues continued Friday night when he tied a career high with seven walks, including one intentional.
The Pirates walked 10, the first time that has happened since 2009.
Locke walked the leadoff batter in each of the first four innings, including Keon Broxton, who is without a hit in 12 career major league games. Three of the leadoff walks scored.
“It’s one of those games that it’s frustrating to be a part of, especially when you’re the one causing it,” Locke said. “The name of the game is walks come back to haunt you.”
Locke allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits, and struck out four in 4 2⁄3 innings.
He threw only 50 of his 97 pitches for strikes. Locke’s start and Juan Nicasio’s step back earlier in the week against Detroit do little to alleviate the concern about the Pirates’ rotation after Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.
“His command wasn’t where it needed to be,” Hurdle said. “We have some ideas on some things. We’ll go to work (Saturday).”
Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson again quieted the Pirates. He entered with a 4-2 record against the Pirates — and 10-21 against everyone else.
The Pirates were held scoreless until the seventh.
Josh Harrison led off the inning with his second walk of the game, and Jordy Mercer reached on an error to put runners on first and second and no outs for Matt Joyce, who pinch hit for Lobstein.
Joyce smashed the first pitch into the right-center seats for a three-run homer, just the fourth of the season for the Pirates.
Entering Friday, 30 major league players had at least as many home runs as the Pirates (three).
David Freese and Starling Marte hit back-to-back doubles to cut the Brewers lead to 5-4.
But Braun quickly pushed the deficit back to three runs.
“They play great at home,” Braun said. “It’s a really difficult to continue to shut down, inning after inning. So obviously the extra tack-on runs we could get are extremely important, always, and it turned out to be extra important tonight.”