Pittsburgh’s two offseason additions to its rotation have hardly
been perfect, but they’ve given the Pirates something they’ve been
sorely lacking for years – an ability to miss bats.
A night after A.J. Burnett struck out 10 in Pittsburgh’s
walk-off win, Erik Bedard takes the mound against the visiting
Washington Nationals on Wednesday looking for a third straight
victory after fanning 20 in his last two.
There are many reasons the Pirates (13-16) haven’t had a winning
season since 1992, but the lack of a front-end starter is arguably
among the biggest.
While they weren’t expecting Burnett or Bedard to be true aces,
the veterans have given Pittsburgh something its rotation hasn’t
seen in a while. Both Burnett (10.3) and Bedard (9.8) are in the
majors’ top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings among pitchers with
at least four starts, major outliers for a team that has baseball’s
fewest strikeouts since 2007.
On Tuesday, Burnett bounced back from becoming the first Pirates
pitcher since 1932 to allow 12 runs in a game, though Joel Hanrahan
couldn’t save the right-hander’s second victory. But after Adam
LaRoche gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer, Rod
Barajas responded with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of
the ninth to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 win.
“Pretty exciting, wasn’t it? … I thought what the heck? He’s
hit a few homers before,” manager Clint Hurdle said of the
decision to let Barajas – who was hitting .127 without an RBI this
season – bat.
Like Burnett, Bedard (2-4, 2.65 ERA) has had his early hiccups,
though his 0-4 start was due as much to a lack of run support as
his elevated pitch counts.
He’s thrown a combined 200 pitches over just 10 innings in his
last two starts, but a bevy of strikeouts contributed to that. He
fanned nine in a 4-2 win at Atlanta on April 28, then struck out 11
over five innings in a 6-3 victory over hot-hitting St. Louis on
Thursday – including seven straight at one point.
“I was throwing pitches and they were swinging through it,”
Bedard said. “I guess I was in a good groove. I don’t remember
Bedard has an impressive if brief history of making the
Nationals (18-11) swing and miss. He’s struck out 30 in 19 innings
over three starts but is 0-1 despite a 1.42 ERA.
Washington counters with Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59), who hasn’t
been missing many bats but has been successful nonetheless. The
left-hander struck out two but turned in his third straight quality
start Thursday, holding Arizona to one run and three hits over a
season-high 6 1-3 innings in a 2-1 win.
Opponents are hitting .190 off Detwiler overall, with lefties
batting .083 (2 for 24) with nine strikeouts.
“I was really impressed with Det,” manager Davey Johnson said.
“He was my star of the game.”
Detwiler has faced the Pirates just once – his first major
league start May 18, 2009. He gave up three runs and four hits over
Pedro Alvarez and Pittsburgh’s other lefties shouldn’t be the
only ones concerned about facing Detwiler, however. Left-handers
have the exact same numbers – 2 for 24 with nine strikeouts –
Facing lefties hasn’t exactly bothered Bryce Harper thus far,
though. The Nationals phenom is 5 for 11 over his first nine games
in the majors after hitting just .190 against southpaws this season
in the minors.