All posts by Rob Biertempfel

Game 48: Abandon all hope? Hold that thought.

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Gerry Images

HighFiveOsunaATLANTA — Is all hope lost? Is a spot in the postseason out of reach? Is is already time to start thinking about next year? Should the Pirates be sellers at the trade deadline?

Not so fast.

The folks at Baseball Prospectus compiled their oppRPA+ standings, which gauges every team’s strength of schedule to this point in the season. The Pirates’ slate has a oppRPA+ of 105.6, meaning it’s been the toughest in the majors ahead of the Giants (105.2), Royals (104.0), Blue Jays (103.7) and Tigers (102.9).

Eno Sarris, writing for Fangraphs, said the strong test early in the season could help the Pirates later this summer. He noted they have “only” 13 games left against the Cubs and that there are encouraging signs of improvement from Tyler Glasnow. If the schedule gets easier from here, and if Starling Marte is himself (or reasonably close to it) when he rejoins the team, and if Jung Ho Kang ever digs a tunnel out of South Korea (I know it would have to be really deep to go under the Pacific Ocean, but bear with me, OK?) then maybe the Pirates have a shot to do something this year after all.

>>> UPDATE 10:42 a.m. – Gregory Polanco was activated off the 10 -day DL, but is not in the lineup today. Danny Ortiz was optioned back to Triple-A Indy. … Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) threw a 35-pitch bullpen session this morning, his second such post-surgery workout. “This was more of a competition bullpen,” Taillon said. “I’m tired, but it’s all good.” Bullpen coach Euclides Rojas simulated at batter (without actually holding a bat) while Taillon threw. “I think I struck out Euky a couple of times,” Taillon said with a grin.

>>> Andrew McCutchen is benched today for the second game in a row. Yesterday, he said, without getting into too much detail (well, actually, without getting into any detail) that a big part of his problem at the plate is his upper body is too rotational. After last night’s win (in which McCutchen singled and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seven-run 10th inning), manager Clint Hurdle said he’s not going to discuss McCutchen’s struggles with reporters and told McCutchen to do the same.

Before the game, Hurdle was asked if McCutchen is being hindered by “hard luck,” as indicated by a career-worst .220 BAbip (the league average is .298). “Hard luck plays a way in life,” Hurdle replied. “There is no rule that if you hit a ball hard you get a hit. If you want to hit .300, you’ve got to hit a lot of balls hard. We all get that. So, yeah, it plays a role on hard contact and how it plays out. We’ve got numbers for that. You guys can crunch them and throw them out there. However, there comes a point in time, too, when it’s overall quality of at-bat, the consistency of the at-bat. It’s hard for Andrew right now, so we have to find a way to help him.”

There is more than just bad luck working against McCutchen. His bat speed has declined from 62.1 mph in 2015 to 61.2 mph last year to 59.6 this year. When the bat slows down, exit velocity drops. More softly hit balls usually equate to a lower BAbip. Will mechanical adjustments to his rotation help generate more bat speed? McCutchen isn’t saying, so we’ll have to watch and see over the next few weeks.

>>> Josh Collmenter was DFA’d this morning by the Braves. Last night, he gave up seven runs — including consecutive homers by David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer — in the 10th inning. RHP Matt Wisler was recalled from Triple-A.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 12, Braves 7: Adam Frazier might never make another out the rest of his career.

Notebook: In which McCutchen sits, Polanco runs, Bastardo pitches and alarms go off.

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 8, Josh Harrison 7, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jose Osuna 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) 1

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Nick Markakis 9, Matt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Kurt Suzuki 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Jace Peterson 4, RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28) 1

Gamecast: Colon, a 20-year veteran, turned 44 on Wednesday. He has 235 career wins and needs nine more to pass Juan Marichal as the winningest pitcher ever from the Dominican Republic. … Over his first three games since being acquired by the Braves, 1B Matt Adams went 5 for 13 (.385) with two homers and four RBI. … After Kurt Suzuki went 3 for 4 on Tuesday, Braves catchers were hitting a combined .320, the top mark in the majors. Their .427 OBP also was best in MLB. … Josh Harrison notched his 600th career hit on Wednesday.

>>> Friday: Mets at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler (3-2, 3.74) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 5.85)

>>> Saturday: Mets at Pirates, 7:15 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: TBA Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-5, 3.36) Note: LHP Tommy Milone (1-2, 7.91) was slated to start, but on Wednesday was placed on the DL.

>>> Sunday: Mets at Pirates, 8 p.m., PNC Park. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Matt Harvey (3-3, 5.36) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates go from heartbreak to homer-happy, rout Braves

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Story and videos by Rob Biertempfel

ATLANTA — Down two runs in the ninth inning on Wednesday, the Pirates had runners on first and second when Josh Harrison mashed a fly ball to the deepest part of SunTrust Park.

If the ball touches grass, the game is tied. If it clears the fence, it’s a go-ahead homer. Instead, Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte hauled it in at the wall.

“I hit that ball well, but he ran it down,” Harrison said with a shrug. “That’s one of those times when you look at baseball and you say, ‘Baseball sucks.’ ”

Not very long after that, however, the ballpark wasn’t big enough to contain the Pirates.

In the 10th inning, the Pirates exploded for seven runs — including consecutive homers by David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer — and crushed the Braves, 12-5.

“It’s crazy,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Harrison drives that ball to the wall and it looks like out heart is broken, and we still answered.”

The Pirates took a three-run lead in the first inning on Adam Frazier’s three-run homer. Right-hander Julio Teheran shut them down after that, which gave the Braves time to rally for a 5-3 lead.

Osuna tied the game in the ninth with a two-out, two-run single.

Mired in a deep batting funk, Andrew McCutchen was not in the starting lineup for just the second time in 47 games. He led off the 10th inning as a pinch-hitter and lined a single to left.

Rookie Gift Ngoepe stroked an RBI double off Josh Collmenter.

“You could feel it in the dugout when he got that knock,” Harrison said. “It let a little bit of pressure off the rest of the squad.”

It was Ngoepe who began the game-tying rally in the ninth by legging out an infield single. In the 10th, he reached out for a 1-2 cutter and laced it toward the right field corner.

“I was just trying to battle and look for a good pitch I could swing at,” Ngoepe said. “(Collmenter) is a little funky, and he threw me a pitch I could throw my hands out there and put it in play.”

After Adam Frazier was intentionally walked — reaching base for the sixth time in the game — Harrison lined a two-run single.

Freese hit a two-run homer to left field. Osuna and Mercer followed with solo shots. It’s the first time the Pirates went deep in three straight at-bats since Sept. 13, 2013, against the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s why people come to the ballpark, you never know what’s going to happen,” Hurdle said. “Not a lot of hitting early. For us to show up in the ninth again was big, was fun. You can’t figure it out. It’s fun to watch.”

In the second inning, Frazier’s two-out homer gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead.

Frazier isn’t afraid of two-strike counts. He owns a career .325 average with two strikes and is hitting .379 when the count was 0-2.

Yet, Frazier had never hit a home run in his first 136 plate appearances with two strikes. That changed in the second inning.

Mercer led off with a single up the middle. With one out, Mercer should have been the front end of a double play, but shortstop Jace Peterson booted Chris Stewart’s routine grounder. Trevor Williams sacrificed the runners over.

Teheran got lucky with his first pitch, a slider down and out of the zone that was called a strike by umpire Vic Carapazza. Frazier then fisted a fastball into foul ground to fall behind 0-2.

Teheran opted to try be sneaky in another four-seamer up and in to the lefty batter. Frazier timed his swing perfectly.

The home run traveled 401 feet and crashed off the brick wall of the Chop House restaurant beyond the right field wall.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 47: Time to move Cutch down in order?

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Getty Images

CutchSadBravesATLANTA — Good … morning? afternoon? evening? I’ve lost track. It’s all been a blur since last night’s rain delay. Anyway, let’s get back at it.

>>> I would not be shocked if Andrew McCutchen is moved down in the batting order as soon as today. McCutchen went 0 for 5 last night — and twice hit into double plays with runners in scoring position — which dropped his batting average to .200.

Manager Clint Hurdle after the game refused to say what he thinks might be ailing McCutchen at the plate. Hurdle, who was ejected in the first inning (the second game in a row he got an early exit), saw McCutchen’s ABs on TV instead of from his usual dugout view. “I’ve got to watch from a different angle the last couple of nights, so I might have some new thoughts to bring to the table (on Wednesday),” Hurdle said.

In the first inning, Adam Frazier fell behind 0-2, but worked a leadoff walk. After fouling off a bunt attempt, Josh Harrison lined a single into center field. Up came McCutchen, who went into the game batting .229 with runners in scoring position. Two on and none out. A chance for to set the tone early. McCutchen grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Josh Bell, who batted cleanup for the fifth time in six games, salvaged something in the inning by blooping an RBI double into left field.

The Pirates had a chance to blow it open in the fourth. With one out, Tyler Glasnow singled. Frazier walked. Harrison singled to load the bases. McCutchen fell behind 1-2, then hit a bouncer to third base for an inning-ending double play.

>>> UPDATE 5 p.m. – After discussing early this morning with Hurdle, McCutchen has been benched for today’s game. Hurdle did not indicate whether this will last more than one game. “We’re taking it day by day,” Hurdle said.

McCutchen said he will use today to put in extra workon some mechanical problems. He said the reason for his slump is not mental — he’s not over-thinking things at the plate.

“The thing is, I don’t think when I hit, ” McCutchen said. “Honestly, what can you think about when the ball is coming in there, it’s getting to you in four-tenths of a second? You really can’t think about too much. When I hit, I don’t think. That’s what makes me the hitter I know I can be. When I’m hitting, people ask what I’m thinking about. I don’t know. I just go up there and try and hit the ball. That hasn’t changed at all. I do my thinking in the cage. I do my thinking when I’m sitting there and working with my hitting coaches and working on certain things. When the game starts, I go and play. It’s just about it translating from the cage to the field. Right now, it’s some work I’ve got to do. once that translates on the field, I know I’ll be good. Want it to work now, but I know sometimes that doesn’t happen. At least I know what I’m doing. It’s just about fixing it, and it’s about it sticking and being able to stay in that position.”

>>> UPDATE 6:40 p.m. – Gregory Polanco (hamstring) ran the bases at full-speed without incident, according to head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. Polanco seems set come off the DL when he’s eligible tomorrow instead of going on a minor league rehab stint. … Also, Antonio Bastardo (quad) is set to throw one inning tomorrow in extended spring training. Bastardo likely will go to a minor league affiliate within the next couple of days. … Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) will throw another bullpen tomorrow morning.

>>> A two-out single by Alen Hanson in the seventh inning last night snapped a streak of 15.1 hitless innings by the Braves’ bullpen. The run spanned 51 at-bats and 56 batters. All those measures are franchise records.

>>> During the third inning last night, warning buzzers went off and a message flashed on all the videoboards telling fans they needed to evacuate SunTrust Park. A few fans left their seats, but the warnings were quickly disabled and the game went on as normal. A tweet sent by SunTrust Park’s account said a “malfunction” was to blame for the disturbance. According to The Associated Press, a pan fire in the Chop House restaurant in right field triggered the alarms.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Braves 6, Pirates 5: A long, wet night ends with 13 runners stranded on base and a gut-punch defeat

Notebook: In which Taillon pines for normalcy, Polanco says he’s ready, and Freese chirps

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Danny Ortiz 8, Chris Stewart 2,  RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) 1

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Brandon Phillips 4, Nick Markakis 9, MKatt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Tyler Flower 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Jace Peterson 6, RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47) 1

Gamecast: Williams has faced the Braves just once before. On April 9, he retired six of the seven batters he faced and recorded four strikeouts over two scoreless innings of relief at PNC Park. … Pirates UTIL Adam Frazier reached base safely in three of five plate appearances on Monday. Since being reinstated from the 10-day disabled list on May 12, Frazier’s 17 hits ties him for the most in the National League with Charlie Blackmon, Ender Inciarte and D.J. LeMahieu.

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) Braves: RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28)

>>> Friday: Mets at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler (3-2, 3.74) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 5.85)

>>> Saturday: Mets at Pirates, 7:15 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: TBA Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-5, 3.36) Note: LHP Tommy Milone (1-2, 7.91) was slated to start, but today was placed on the DL.

>>> Sunday: Mets at Pirates, 8 p.m., PNC Park. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Matt Harvey (3-3, 5.36) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Braves steal win from Pirates in red-eye marathon

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By Rob Biertempfel

ATLANTA — Once the Pirates and Atlanta Braves finally started playing again early Wednesday morning, it was like neither team wanted to stop.

After waiting out a 3 1/2-hour rain delay, the Pirates needed just nine outs to win. Instead, the lead changed hands three times over the final three innings before the Braves pulled out a 6-5 victory.

Matt Adams lined a walkoff single off Tony Watson at 1:52 a.m. — more than six hours after the first pitch of the game.

“We’ve had some wild finishes here,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The game ended up all over the place.”

It’s not the first marathon in Atlanta for either Hurdle or the Pirates.

“I’ve actually played in a longer game here,” Hurdle said. “It finished at 3:45 a.m. and they shot off fireworks at 4 o’clock on July 4, 1985. (The Pirates) played an 18-inning game here a few years ago.”

Still, this one must have seemed especially long to Hurdle, who was ejected for the second night in a row. He was booted in the top of the first inning for arguing with home plate umpire Nic Lentz.

The rain delay of 3 hours, 12 minutes was the longest for the Pirates in a road game since Sept. 17, 2012, when they waited out a storm for 3:37 at Wrigley Field.

“The whole night just stinks,” shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “Sitting around for that long, playing into the night … well, the next morning. It stinks.”

The Pirates led, 3-2, when the rain hit. When play resumed, the Braves scored two runs in the seventh inning.

Closer Jim Johnson couldn’t nail it down. With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, Mercer hit a two-run single to make it 5-4.

Nick Markakis’ RBI double off Watson tied it at 5. Markakis scored the game-winner on Adams’ two-out single to left.

The Braves’ rally cost Tyler Glasnow a win. The right-hander worked six innings and gave up two runs on nine hits, walked two and struck out four.

“Another step forward,” Hurdle said.

Glasnow was even better at the plate. Against Braves knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Glasnow went 3 for 3 — doubling his career hits total over the course of six innings.

Even Glasnow seemed in disbelief each time he reached base.

“I think it was just maybe what the hits were,” Glasnow said. “It was probably a little bit of luck on my side.”

In the first inning, Glasnow legged out an infield single on a weak grounder to short. In the third, he looped a single to shallow left. In the sixth, more hustle down the line produced another infield hit

“I think it’s because I hit the ball so soft,” Glasnow said, explaining the infield singles. “I had some time and I have decent speed. I like running, so I do it and I’m safe.”

It was the most hits in a game by a Pirates pitcher since Doug Drabek went 3 for 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 27, 1991.

Glasnow didn’t get a fourth at-bat, as the rain delay before the top of the seventh knocked him out of the game.

The Pirates built a 2-0 lead against Dickey on Josh Bell’s RBI double in the first inning and John Jaso’s run-scoring single in the third.

Mercer, who bruised his right thumb on Monday, led off the sixth with a fly ball to right field. Mercer didn’t get all of it, but he got enough — the ball cleared the top of the fence by a foot or so.

It was the first time in his career that Mercer cleared the wall for an opposite-field home run.

The Braves pulled within 3-2 via single runs in the fourth and sixth.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 46: Freese miffed by quick hook from Cuzzi

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Getty ImaHurdleTossedCuzziges

ATLANTA — David Freese, who was ejected last night by umpire Phil Cuzzi,  was unhappy about getting what he thought was a quick hook. Freese got some support via Twitter from a former Braves standout. “Chipper Jones had a nice tweet about it,” Freese said. “That’s how I feel.”

In his first at-bat, Freese was called out on a checked-swing. Those calls can sometimes be subjective and thus open to debate, but Freese did not dispute that strikeout. In his second at-bat, Freese was called out on a pitch that appeared to be outside the zone — which Freese said he confirmed by watching the pitch again on video.Freese chirped about it from the dugout and was tossed.

“I mean, c’mon. I don’t thing he should ring me for what I said,” Freese said. “Me and Phil have a good relationship. And I’m not a rookie. I think I deserve a little warning or something. But, bad call, I yelled and I got tossed. I’m glad Clint (Hurdle) stood up for the situation.”

As Hurdle went onto the field, Cuzzi turned and said, “You know better than that.” Hurdle repeated yelled,”So what?” as he tried to stay between Cuzzi and Freese, who had stormed back onto the field with a bit of fire in his eyes. Freese eventually was gently nudged back to the dugout by Francisco Cervelli and Hurdle was tossed, too. 

>>> Atlanta’s bullpen has not allowed a hit in 15.1 innings, which is the longest streak in franchise history since at least 1974, according to STATS. The run began on May 18 during the seventh inning against the Blue Jays — RHP Josh Commenter allowed a leadoff single, then retired the next three batters to trigger an 0-for-49 stretch by opposing batters.

>>> Gerrit Cole is 1-4 over his past seven starts. That sounds bad, but is it really? His ERA in that span is 2.62 (13 earned runs in 44.2 innings).

>>> Brandon Phillips is not a favorite of Pirates fans, but you’ve got to give him his props. Last night, he drove a 2-1 pitch from Cole out to left-center field for his 200th career homer. Phillips is the 48th player (and the sixth second baseman) in MLB history to hit 200 home runs and steal 200 bases. Of the second basemen who’ve done it, four — Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg and Craig Biggio — are in the Hall of Fame. Ian Kinsler, who also has reached that milestone, is still active.

>>> UPDATES 5:05 p.m. – Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) was cleared to throw a bullpen, so he made 25 tosses (using all of his pitches) off the slope this afternoon. “All the reports are very positive,” athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said. … Gregory Polanco (hamstring) hit in the indoor batting cage earlier today and took his bat with him out to the field for BP. Wednesday is a big day for Polanco — running the bases at full speed could be the final hurdle before he comes off the DL . Hurdle this afternoon said it hasn’t yet been decided whether Polanco will go on a minor league rehab assignment. He’s eligible to come off the DL on Thursday.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Braves 5, Pirates 2: A lot of early departures on a wet, grey night.

Notebook: In which Sean Rodriguez works his way back, Hurdle takes a stroll and Indy claims two awards.

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates (20-25): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, John Jaso 9, Alen Hanson 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34) 1

Braves (19-23): Ender Inciarte 8, Brandon Phillips 4, Nick Markakis 9, Matt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Kurt Suzuki 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Dansby Swanson 6, RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13) 1

Gamecast: Glasnow has never faced the Braves. … Glasnow threw 87 pitches when he worked 5.0 IP on Thursday when the beat the Nationals. To start going deeper into games on a regular basis, he needs to cut down his walk rate (6.3 BB/9). … The Braves traded for Slippery Rock product Matt Adams to replace 1B Freddy Freeman, who’s expected to be out 10 weeks with a broken wrist. Freeman was leading the NL with 14 homers and ranked second in extra-base hits (26), OBP (.461) and slugging percentage (.748). … Dickey is 3-3 with a 2.76 ERA in nine career outings (eight starts) vs. the Pirates. On April 8, he gave up six runs (four earned) on nine hits in 5.2 IP in a 6-4 loss at PNC Park.

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) Braves: RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 45: Rainy night(s) in Georgia

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Story by Rob Biertempfel

ATLANTA — According to my phone’s weather app, we could be singing this song during the entire four-game series this week between the Pirates and Braves. Ladies and gentlemen, Brook Benton:

BillHinchman>>> Those of you who tuned into the Stanley Cup beat down yesterday afternoon might have missed the Pirates’ series-clinching win vs. the Phillies. David Freese took one for the team, driving in the game’s only run by getting hit with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. Per the wonks at Elias, it was the first time the Pirates won 1-0 on a HBP since May 31, 1915, when Bill Hinchman was plunked by the Cubs’ Jimmy Lavender.

>>> Jameson Taillon, who’s on the mend after having surgery for testicular cancer, made the trip with the team. “It’s the next thing to do,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s no reason for him not to be here.”

>>> This is the Pirates’ first trip to SunTrust Park, which opened in April. Hurdle this afternoon took a walk around the fielSunTrust2d to get some sort of feel for how the park might play. “The playing field is fast and it is hitter-friendly,” he said. It’s not very Pittsburgh-friendly, though. This homage to Sid Bream’s slide is what greets you just outside the main entrance to the home clubhouse:

>>> Triple-A Indianapolis swept the International League weekly awards. INF Jason Rogers was named player of the week and LHP Steven Brault was named pitcher of the week. It’s the first time Indy ahs won both awards in the same week since joining the IL in 1998. The Indians are the first team to do it since Durham (Tampa Bay Rays) in July 2016. For the week, Brault put up a 0.69 ERA in two starts, including seven shutout innings on Sunday against Toledo. Rogers, 29, hit .400 with two doubles, two home runs, 11 RBI and one stolen base over eight games last week.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 1, Phillies 0: Chad Kuhl taps the breaks on his velo and rediscovers some success.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: GM Huntington says he’d love to spend some cash on a player or two, BUT …

>>> Monday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Gerrit Cole (2-4, 2.84) 1

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Brandon Phillips 4, NIck Markakis 9, Matt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Tyler Flowers 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Dansby Swanson 6, RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4, 4.10) 1

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34) Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) Braves:RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47)

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) Braves: RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 43: No win, but lessons learned for Williams

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Chaz Palla

Although he didn’t pick up a win, Trevor Williams gleaned important lessons last night during his start against the Phillies. Williams (2-3) worked 5.2 innings and gave up three runs on four hits. The Phillies didn’t square up many balls against him, but took advantage of two walks and a soft double fisted into shallow left field by Daniel Nava.

WilliamsChazThe first walk came in the third inning, after Freddy Galvis reached on a fan interference double. “A ground ball that got through the hole,” Williams said. With one out, Williams walked pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. Then Cesar Hernandez poked and RBI single up the middle. “A seeing-eye ball. That’s kind of the way today went,” Williams said.

In the sixth, Hernandez drew a leadoff walk and Nava doubled. “I had to limit the damage as much as I could,” Williams said. “Then we got two pitches and two outs after that.” Those two outs were signifiant, though — a run-scoring grounder and a sacrifice fly that put the Phillies up to stay, 3-2.

Williams didn’t make it out of the inning, as Odubel Herrera grounded a weak single to cap an 11-pitch at-bat. Williams was visibly upset as he saw the ball sneak through the middle into center field. “It was a battle I wanted to win really bad, especially to finish my start,” Williams said.

Williams did not register a strikeout, the byproduct of a limited arsenal. “I didn’t have my slider,” he said. “It was pretty clear early on in the game that it ws just fastball-changeup and working the sinker. They were swinging early, there were a lot of quick outs, so we were just riding that. You have to do what you can with the pitches you’ve got.” The slider eventually came around, but by then Williams’ outing was nearly over. Making his third straight start in place of Jameson Taillon (cancer), Williams threw a career-high 93 pitches

“We’re getting better,” Williams said. “We’re getting into a routine and the pitch count is going up. I’m going to just roll with it. We’ll reassess (on Saturday) and get ready for four days from now.”

>>> UPDATE 12:56 p.m. – Josh Lindblom woke up this morning with some left side discomfort, per the Pirates, so he’s been placed on the 10-day DL. That conveniently opens a roster spot for reliever Jhan Marinez, who was just claimed off waivers. Manager Clint Hurdle said Marinez will fill the type of role once performed by Jared Hughes — a sinkerballer who will be called upon with runners on base and who can pitch part of an inning or multiple innings.

>>> Here’s a tasty tidbit: Tony Watson (who’ll almost certainly will be traded in July before he hits the free-agent market this winter) has hired Scott Boras as his new agent.

>>> For what it’s worth …

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Phillies 7, Pirates 2: Two quick runs, then … silence.

Taillon: “When you have the word cancer involved, it’s a whole other dimension — you’re talking life, death, whatever.”

>>> Saturday: Phillies at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies (15-24): Cesar Hernandez 4, Freddy Galvis 6, Aaron Atherr 7, Tommy Joseph 3, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Michael Saunders 9, Cameron Rupp 2, RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) 1

Pirates (18-24): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48) 1

Gamecast: Over the first six games of their road trip (three games each vs. the Nationals and Rangers), the Phillies’ bullpen put up a 6.34 ERA and a .310 batting average against. … Since April 20, Tommy Joseph has raised his batting average 104 points by collecting 23 hits, including 12 for extra bases, in 79 plate appearances. … Nova is 1-0 with a 0.71 ERA in two career starts vs. the Phillies. On Sept. 13, 2016, he whiffed 11 and gave up one earned run, but got a no-decision at Citizens Bank Park. He tossed 6.2 scoreless innings for the Yankees on June 24, 2015.

>>> Sunday: Phillies at Pirates, 1:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

>>> Monday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-4, 2.84) Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4, 4.10)

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34) Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 42: Taillon working his way back

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

TaillonST2017The night before his last start on May 3 in Cincinnati, Jameson Taillon felt, as he put it, “something odd” in his groin. He mentioned it to the Pirates’ training staff and within days was diagnosed with suspected testicular cancer. 

Today, Taillon made his first public comments after having surgery to remove a tumor that lab results later confirmed was cancerous. “I’m feeling good now, feeling healthy,” Taillon said. “We’re getting all good news back so far. Going forward, it will have to be something I’ll have to monitor. It will be something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. It’s part of my identity now.”

Since his surgery, Taillon has been in touch with Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last fall and recently finished a round of chemotherapy. Cancer survivors Andrew Lambo, Lance Armstrong and John Kruk also have reached out. Lambo and Taillon were once teammates at Double-A Altoona. Kruk advised him to take his time coming back from the surgery.

Taillon has visited the Pirates clubhouse and has been cleared for light workouts. There is no timetable yet for when he might return to game action. “We’re going to truly go day to day,” Taillon said. “I still have to do blood work to make sure my markers are where they need to be. Once we get those results back, that will be time to map out a more strict plan.”

>>> UPDATE 5:41 p.m. — The Pirates claimed right-hander Jhan Marinez off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. Marinez, 28, went 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 15 relief outings before being designated for assignment on Tuesday. Marinez made his debut in 2010 with the Miami Marlins and has put up a 3.63 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP over 68 relief outings in the majors. He throws a slider and a two-seam fastball that averages 95 mph. The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move when Marinez joins the team.

>>> Gerrit Cole will be featured on “Play Ball,” a show geared toward young fans, at 10 a.m. Saturday on MLB Network. Here are a couple of sneak peeks:

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 10, Nationals 4: Josh Bell, making his debut in the cleanup spot, ignites the offense

Notebook: Jaso shrugs off critics, Frazier sings a happy tune

>>> Friday: Phillies at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies (14-24): Cesar Hernandez 4, Daniel Nava 9, Aaron Atherr 7, Tommy Joseph 3, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Freddy Galvis 6, Cameron Rupp 2, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71) 1

Pirates (18-23): Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jose Osuna 9, Danny Ortiz 7, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41) 1

Gamecast: This will be Williams’ third start since replacing Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) in the rotation. In his last outing, Williams picked up the win (5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO) vs. the Diamondbacks. … Williams has never faced the Phillies. … Cesar Hernandez leads NL second basemen in runs scored and pitches per plate appearance (3.99). He trails only the Nationals Daniel Murphy in OBP (.374) and total bases. … Right-handed hitters were 0 for 20 vs. Phillies RHP reliever Joaquin Benoit until Seattle’s Danny Valencia hit an RBI double on May 10. Benoit is holding righties to a .077 batting average.

>>> Saturday: Phillies at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

>>> Sunday: Phillies at Pirates, 1:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 41: Bench Cutch? “It hasn’t been discussed.”

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Story and videos by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Chaz Palla

CutchOnBaseLast August, manager Clint Hurdle benched Andrew McCutchen for a road series against the Braves. Before yesterday’s game, McCutchen and I chatted for about 20 minutes on the field. He kept repeating his deep, bitter disappoinment with his current batting funk. When I asked Cutch if it might be worthwhile to sit out a couple of games again as a slump-buster, he practically spit.

“It hasn’t been brought up to me at all. It hasn’t been discussed,” McCutchen said. “I don’t need to give them an excuse to even think about that. I didn’t help me. I don’t think so. People will say, ‘But you hit .280 after that.’ I said in a meeting (with Hurdle) before (being benched), ‘I did something in my last at-bat that felt really good and I’m going to stick with that approach the rest of the season.’ So, for those three days, I sat there and pondered on that one at-bat. Jeremy Jeffries. A tough pitcher, who I don’t have a whole lot of success against. I stayed inside on a fastball that ran in and hit it up the middle. And I was like, ‘Yes!’ If I had played those three games, I could have hit .290 instead of .280. I don’t think it really did much. If anything, it had me sit on that for three days.”

Apparently, a lot of yinz would like to see McCutchen get some time off — even if that means playing an untested, hybrid outfield of Jose Osuna, Adam Frazier and Danny Ortiz:

Of course, hours after that poll closed, Cutch went 2 for 4 with two RBI, two runs scored and two stolen bases vs. the Nats.

>>> This morning, a South Korean court upheld Jung Ho Kang’s suspended sentence for his most recent drunk-driving conviction. Kang’s attorney described that as a “death sentence” for Kang’s MLB career. While that’s probably hyperbole, the ruling does keep a cloud over the issue of when — or even if — Kang will be able to rejoin the Pirates this season. I’ll have more on this as it develops. UPDATE 10:32 a.m.: Prez Frank Coonelly is expected to release a statement this afternoon on Kang’s failed appeal. Neither Coonelly (in NY at MLB owners’ meetings) nor GM Neal Huntington (at Pirate City in Bradenton) is with the team today. As it was explained to me, Kang’s suspended jail sentence was not the hang-up in him getting a work visa to play in the United States. The U.S. government is focused on the fact that he was convicted of a crime (for the third time) rather than the penalty for the crime.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Nationals 1: Gerrit Cole tosses another gem and finally gets some run support, including a big bop from this guy:

McCutchen deep down inside surely is at least a little pissed at management, but he’ll only say out loud that he’s angry at himself.

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals (25-14): Trea Turner 6, Brian Goodwin 7, Bryce Harper 9, Anthony Rendon 5, Daniel Murphy 4, Matt Wieters 2, Adam Lind 3, Michael Taylor 8, RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88) 1

Pirates (17-23): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, John Jaso 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Alen Hanson 4, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98) 1

>>> Friday: Phillies at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71) Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

>>> Saturday: Phillies at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

>>> Sunday: Phillies at Pirates, 1:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40). Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 40: How ’bout a little love (and some runs) for Cole?

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

ColeMoundGerrit Cole’s been pretty good over his last six starts. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates’ offense in that span has been awful.

Cole’s put up a 2.08 ERA and a .197 batting average against. He’s been charged with two or fewer earned runs in each of those half-dozen outings. His 2.08 ERA since April 14 is second best in the NL behind Lance Lynn’s 2.06.

Yet, the Pirates have scored a total of five runs while Cole has been on the mound over his past five starts. His 1.98 run-support average is lowest among major league pitchers.

>>> PLANET OF THE ACHES UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Gregory Polanco was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday, with a sore left hamstring. Outfielder Danny Ortiz was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. … Jameson Taillon‘s pathology report confirmed he had testicular cancer. He will be re-evaluated next week and has been cleared to play catch and do light cardio workouts. There is no timetable for when he will return to game action. … Josh Harrison was given a scheduled day off on Wednesday. Harrison said he’s healthy. … Right-hander Nick Kingham, who’s on the way back from Tommy John surgery, was cleared to rejoin Indy’s rotation.

>>> I didn’t realize Bryce Harper’s laser shot in the ninth inning last night was his first homer at PNC Park, which means he now has gone deep at every NL ballyard. It took 14 games and 58 plate appearances before Harper finally put a ball over the Clemente Wall. “I knew that,” Harper told MASN’s Dan Kolko. “So I’m able to get that out of the way and definitely happy to check it off the list.”

The ball  flew off the bat at 112.6 mph (or, for those who don’t speak Statcast, really fast) and would have reached the Allegheny River if it handed banged into the top row of seats.

>>> John Jaso is taking a lot of heat for his slow start at the plate, including from the fan last night who screamed, “Cut your hair!” after Jaso struck out. And, yeah, even Jaso will admit that he’s never going to win a Gold Glove in the outfield. But you cannot dispute the guy’s effort, especially when it produces a web gem …

https://twitter.com/statcast/status/864705394941337600

>>> Here’s a quick take from assistant GM Kyle Stark about RHP Hai-Cheng Gong, the international free agent signed on Monday out of China: “We think he’s got some upside as he fills out. We like how the arm works and see some growth potential with his secondary stuff, especially the changeup.” Stark indicated it’s too soon to say whether Gong projects as a starter or reliever: “We will look to get him to (rookie level Bradenton) and go from there.”

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Nationals 8, Pirates 4: “He was out there giving everything he (had). Sometimes, giving everything you’ve got gets in the way.”

Notebook: As his native country bleeds, Rivero yearns for an end to the unrest.

When you use this link, a portion of ticket proceeds from the June 13 game vs. the Rockies will be donated to the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

Thon2016

>>> Wednesday: Nationals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals (25-13): Trea Turner 6, Jayson Werth 7, Bryce Harper 9, Ryan Zimmerman 3, Daniel Murphy 4, Anthony Rendon 5, Brain Goodwin 8, Jose Lobaton 2, RHP Jacob Turner (2-1, 3.31) 1

Pirates (16-23): Adam Frazier 7, John Jaso 9, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Merer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06) 1

Gamecast: The Nationals have not faced Cole at PNC Park since 2015. In his two career starts vs. the Nats at home, Cole is 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA. … Only one current National has homered off Cole. It’s not Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon. It’s Michael Taylor, who went into this series with 24 homers in 807 career at-bats. … Then again, Taylor has flashed some power lately. On Sunday, he mashed a two-run shot in the eighth inning to produced a 6-5 win vs. the Phillies. It was his second home run this season. … Through Monday, there was a Nationals player atop the MLB leaderboards in batting average (Ryan Zimmerman), OBP (Harper), slugging percentage (Zimmerman), OPS (Zimmerman), runs (Harper), hits (Zimmerman), total bases (Zimmerman), intentional walks (Harper) and extra-base hits (Zimmerman).

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88). Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98)

>>> Friday: Phillies at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71). Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

>>> Saturday: Phillies at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63). Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

>>> Sunday: Phillies at Pirates, 1:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40). Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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