The Pittsburgh Pirates will be aiming for a sweep of their three-game home series against the Cleveland Indians when the teams play Sunday. That’s a scenario that seemed improbable about, oh, dinner time Friday.
The Pirates had lost 10 in a row, scoring a paltry 22 runs in those games, and looked as if they might be taking a run at last place in the major leagues.
The Indians had won four straight, 10 of 14, and had eyes on a division title despite reams of injuries, especially to their starters.
Then the teams flipped the script, and the Pirates broke through for 17 runs in the first two games of the series.
“We’re just sticking to our approach and trying to get good pitches to hit, and then putting the barrel on it,” Pittsburgh center fielder Bryan Reynolds told AT&T Sportsnet after he most certainly put the barrel on it in the seventh Saturday for a three-run homer into the Allegheny River.
Friday, Pittsburgh built an 11-1 lead, then nearly blew it but held on for an 11-10 win. Saturday, it was Cleveland that went ahead, this time 2-0, then had to endure a six-run seventh during which Reynolds and Michael Perez each hit three-run homers, the Pirates sent 11 players to the plate, and three Indians pitchers gave up six walks.
Those events could be demoralizing for a club, but Cleveland manager Terry Francona insisted it won’t be for his players.
“It’s uncharacteristic, and it proves they’re human,” Francona said.
“These are guys that have been there and done it, and will continue to do it. It hurt (Saturday), but we’ll put it behind us and we’ll see if we can do better (Sunday).”
Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez, who left Friday’s game after getting hit with a pitch in the left ankle area, did not play Saturday. Francona indicated it did not seem to be serious and described Ramirez as day to day.
In the series finale, Cleveland left-hander Sam Hentges (1-1, 7.57 ERA) is slated to face Pittsburgh right-hander JT Brubaker (4-5, 3.88 ERA).
Hentges’ rookie season has been a bit rocky as he has gravitated between the bullpen and as a spot starter pressed into an occasional role in the rotation because of injuries. He has made four starts among his 11 outings.
It’s likely he won’t be expected to pitch deep into Sunday’s game. Thursday, he pitched a scoreless inning allowing one hit and striking out three against Baltimore.
Hentges has not gone more than 2 1/3 innings over his past four appearances and has not started since May 30. He has never faced the Pirates.
Brubaker has lost three of his past four decisions but is coming off a solid start and a no-decision Monday when he gave up two runs and four hits in five innings at Washington, with two walks and one strikeout.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “Slider was good. Struggled with the fastball command at times, but I thought he bounced back. He was efficient. He gave us a good solid start because of the slider.
“As long as our starters are efficient, I’m happy with their outings,”
Brubaker has lost his two career starts against Cleveland, both in 2020, with a 9.00 ERA.
–Field Level Media