Pittsburgh Pirates Notebook: Narrowing Down Early Season Struggles For Pitching, Hitting

Photo Credit: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

There was a brief point before the season started that I had that brief moment of optimism, thinking with how low expectations were the Pittsburgh Pirates might be able to surprise some people.

A week into the season, and it might be safe to say they are exactly who we thought they were going to be.

It's a long season, and crazy things can happen in a long baseball season, but it's looking like the Pirates season is going to be a tough one to watch.

The Long Ball Plaguing Pitching Staff Early

So the biggest thing to take note heading into the season was the fact the Pirates were adamant about carrying 14 pitchers into the season as a way to make sure they have enough bodies to finish out a 162 game season. 

They'll certainly have to use more than those original 14, but starting with so many gave them enough options to finish out games - well almost finish out every contest - in the case where the starters struggle to long innings.

That's certainly been the case, as the starters have thrown the fewest amount of innings as a collective unit in all of baseball among teams who haven't had any of their games postponed due to COVID-19. As of their Home Opener, the rotation had pitched just 28 1/3 innings through seven games played. That's an average of 4 innings per start, and Tyler Anderson has accounted for 35% of said frames.

With so few innings thrown by the starters, that has put a strain on the bullpen, and that is starting to show in the home runs allowed by the relievers.

The Pirates bullpen has allowed the third most home runs this season, with a total of six. They also have the third highest ERA, posting a 7.27 mark. They have posted the second most strikeouts, with Duane Underwood Jr's seven leading the way, but that has been overshadowed by some rough outings.

Pittsburgh native Jack Bednar was able to share his special moment of pitching at PNC Park with some of his family Wednesday, but the reliever has allowed two home runs on just two hits this season.

Sam Howard also has allowed multiple home runs on the only hits he has allowed this season, with Clay Holmes, Chris Stratton, and Luis Oviedo also been taken deep already.

Holmes himself has allowed six earned runs in just three innings pitched, with Stratton trailing him with four earned runs and Underwood with three.

Seven games into the season it's hard to really judge relievers statistics - both good and bad - due to the small sample size and what one small outing can really do to those numbers. The Pirates bullpen has shown some potential, with Oviedo having a strong outing in Cincinnati and Richard Rodriguez's perfect start to his season.

But it's going to be a tough journey throughout the season if the Pirates can only rely on Anderson to make it past the fifth inning, or even to that frame.

No Clutch At Bats Hurting Pirates

Almost as rough as it's been to watch the Pirates pitch, seeing them hit with runner's in scoring position has been another low-mark of the year so far.

The Pirates own batting line of .176/.283/.294 with runners in scoring position this year and have scored the sixth fewest runs in the league as a result.

Gregory Polanco is an infuriating 0-for-7 this year with RISP, striking out three times. Colin Moran has four strikeouts in four at bats, while Anthony Alford, Ke'Bryan Hayes (we'll cut him some slack since he hasn't played since game two), and Bryan Reynolds are all without a hit so far with RISP.

Erik Gonzalez has made his lone hit count, a grand slam against the Reds, but doesn't have a hit in his other three at bats.

There has been some good, Adam Frazier is 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs, while Phillip Evans is 3-for-8 with a double, RBI and owns a battle slash of .375/.444/.500. Jacob Stallings, no stranger to big at bats, is 1-for-2 with a RBI double, but has also walked four times with RISP.

Pittsburgh left 21 batters on base in their 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, their Home Opener. In the bottom of the third, they had runners on first and third with one out - no runs scored.

Finally, their rally attempt in the eighth saw them walk the bases loaded with just one out before Dustin Fowler and Wilmer Difo both struck out swinging to end the inning.

Let's Keep Things Positive

It's going to be a long season, we know that. That wasn't going to be a surprise. Just because we knew the Pirates weren't going to have a good year doesn't mean there won't be good moments, and that's something that needs to be celebrated.

While the highlight of the season was supposed to be watching Hayes make his Rookie of the Year run, Evans has more than held his own in the lineup while the former has been out with an injury.

In Evans' first 17 games as a Pirates, the 28-year old has 21 hits to go along with 33 total bases. He has batted to a tune of a .382/.452/.600 batting line in his 55 overall at bats in Pittsburgh.

Thursday it was his glove on display, making a couple of slick backhanded grabs while playing third base.

There is no doubting that when Hayes returns he will be the guy at the hot corner, but Evans versatility will allow the Pirates to keep his bat in the lineup. Or even on the mound, as he has a perfect inning of relief out of the bullpen this season as well.

Hard to find good in a 1-6 start, Evans has shinned through it all so far.

The Pirates have a day off Friday, before wrapping up their first home series of the season with weekend games against the Cubs. Mitch Keller and J.T. Brubaker will take the mound for the Pirates this weekend.

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