Cardinals seek sweep of ailing Pirates on Sunday
PITTSBURGH — Baseball is a game of adjustments, but the Pittsburgh Pirates are really being pushed.
As they head into their series finale against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, the Pirates are in a position where they don’t know who’s going to be available on a daily basis.
The hardest-hit over the past week has been the Pirates’ bullpen.
In his pregame meeting with reporters, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has gotten into a routine of listing which relievers are available and which are not.
On Friday, with no real options, Hurdle said starter Juan Nicasio would be made available for that night’s game in lieu of his normal bullpen day, but still was expected to make his next scheduled start.
Not only did that game go 12 innings — St. Louis scored six runs off of Nicasio, the eighth Pirates pitcher, in the 12th — but No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole left in the third inning because of right triceps soreness.
Asked after that game about the shape of his bullpen and who would be available the rest of the weekend, Hurdle shook his head.
"I don’t even know," he said.
Cole was still being evaluated Saturday, another unknown.
All of that is in addition to a steady stream of relievers moving back and forth between the Pirates and Triple-A Indianapolis as the club tries to improve its bullpen performance.
It’s not just pitchers. Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli also left Friday’s game with what turned out to be a broken hand that required surgery, inducing the Pirates to acquire journeyman catcher Erik Kratz.
On Saturday, Kratz got pressed into duty when catcher Chris Stewart left the game in the seventh after aggravating a sore left ankle on a play at the plate.
Through the rough roster patch, the Pirates have done their best to be resilient, but a 5-1 loss Saturday to the Cardinals was their fourth loss in a row.
"You move on," Hurdle said.
By contrast, the Cardinals are stable. They are 4-1 on a six-game road trip that concludes Sunday, and with Saturday’s 5-1 win moved to 19-12 on the road, assured that they will win their fourth straight series and moved to a season-high six games over .500 at 34-28.
One reason for the good play of late has been the pitching. Carlos Martinez came within two outs of his first career complete game Saturday and stifled the Pirates.
"We’re maybe the only people not surprised," manager Mike Matheny said of St. Louis’ pitching. "It’s just a matter of time, we believe. It’s just been frustrating that it’s taken a while for it to happen. That should be one of the staples of our team."
Pirates left-hander Jonathan Niese (6-2, 3.93 ERA) is scheduled to go against St. Louis right-hander Mike Leake (4-4, 4.22 ERA) Sunday.
Niese is 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his past five starts.
Leake allowed a season-high 10 hits in a no-decision in his last start, Tuesday against Cincinnati. He has won seven of his past eight decisions against the Pirates.