Fresh off their successful series vs. the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates will now take their talents to the west to face the NL West Division which will begin vs. the San Diego Padres (4-9). The other games will be against the Arizona Diamondbacks (5-8) and Colorado Rockies. (7-5)
The Pirates (7-6) ended a 4-game losing streak on their recent home trip by beating the Brewers (5-7) in 2 of the 3 games. After falling to the Brewers 8-4, in which they did come back from a 5-0 deficit, the Pirates rebounded to beat the Brewers 5-0, thanks in part to a masterful performance by P Jon Niese (2-1) who was acquired from the Mets in the Neil Walker trade.
Niese proved a shutout and run support go hand in hand as he kept the Brewers off the scoreboard, pitching a 3-hitter while walking three and striking out three in seven innings. While the Pirates offense provided the lumber as OF Andrew McCutchen’s 2-run HR helped spark the Pirates. And then on Sunday, the Pirates went back to 1979 as the put on throwback jerseys to look the part, and then they played the part of that championship team as they beat up on the Brewers once again, this time by a 9-3 margin.
The Pirates scored 5 runs in the 3rd inning, knocking Brewers P Zach Davies (0-1) out of the game. And although Pirates P Juan Nicasio (2-1) gave up 3 runs in the 4th, it wasn’t enough to break the Pirates spirit as they scored 4 more runs in later innings to secure the victory. McCutchen hit his second HR when he launched a solo shot to deep center field and then pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez hit a Willie Stargell-like 2-run blast that measured 442 feet and landed high in the left-field Rotunda in PNC Park. 2B Josh Harrison and 1B John Jaso each had 2 hits.
After a day off on Monday, the Pirates will prepare to play a Padres team that has begun the 2016 season in last place in the NL West Division. The Padres fell to the Diamondbacks 7-3 Sunday and will continue their home stand as they host the Pirates Tuesday night. Led by new manager Andy Green, the Padres have been struggling, especially on offense, but are hoping that they can ride the coattails of 1B Wil Myers, who has shown signs of heating up. He’s now hitting .288 and credits extra work on his swing and change in the batting order for his improvement.
Meanwhile the Pirates are hoping that they will continue to get runs across the plate. In their 3-game losing streak, they stranded an incredible amount or runners on base, which has hurt them after a 5-2 start. But in the past 2 games, they were able to get it done. And now that McCutchen has caught fire, they hope that the run scoring will continue.
Like PNC Park, Petco Park is not really a hitter’s ballpark, so you may not see many home runs in this series, but for players like Jaso, Harrison and C Francisco Cervelli, it could mean many opportunities for hits into the outfield gaps for doubles and triples.
The Pirates hope that starting pitcher Francisco Liriano is now healthy enough to serve as the ace of this staff. The veteran left hander (1-0) will open the series vs. the Padres Colin Rea (0-1). Game 2 will have Jeff Locke (0-1) vs. Drew Pomeranz (1-1) and the Rubber Match will have Gerrit Cole (0-2) vs. James Shields (0-2). Game 1 and 2 will begin at 10:10pm, and Game 3 will start at 9:10pm.
The 3rd place Pirates were able to get back above .500 this past weekend and do whatever it takes to remain there, while improving on their standings in the NL Central Division. And although they opened the season by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals (7-5) they still trail them and the 1st place Chicago Cubs (9-3) in the standings. They won’t play the Cubs until next week, so the only thing the Pirates can do to hang with both of those teams is to simply win as many games as they can on this road trip.
Notes: 3B Jung Ho Kang’s return to the Pirates has gotten a step closer as he begins a rehabilitation assignment with class AAA Indianapolis on Monday. Kang is in the process of completing his recovery from a serious knee injury that ended his 2015 season in late September. Rehab assignments can last up to 20 days for position players, which means that Kang could return to the Pirates May 8th at the latest, but time will tell based on his progress. Relief Pitcher Jared Hughes will also begin a rehab assignment with Indianapolis, but his will begin on Tuesday. Hughes is recovering from a strained lat muscles in his back.
The Pirates did designate OF/1B Michael Morse for assignment on Wednesday, but his status still remains in limbo and the Pirates still has hope for him in 2016. Meanwhile infielder Pedro Florimon was also designated for assignment and has accepted it and will go to extended spring training before reporting to AAA.
OF Starling Marte didn’t start Sunday’s game because he was hit in the hand by a pitch Saturday, but is expected to be ready Tuesday night.
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