For the Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in four of five games — such as they have done this season — everything must be just right.
In the Pirates’ second consecutive victory against the National League’s best team – a 5-3 victory Tuesday night in front of a noisy crowd of 52,686 at Dodger Stadium — it took:
• A couple splashes of power in the form of two-run homers by Michael Chavis and Tucupita Marcano that staked the Pirates to a 4-0 lead by the end of the second inning.
• Clutch, if erratic, pitching from starter Mitch Keller, who is trying to gain manager Derek Shelton’s trust in order to stay in the rotation. To that end, he may have found a new pitch that might help make it happen.
• Solid relief outings totaling four innings from four pitchers (none of them named David Bednar, by the way). Tyler Beede, Duane Underwood Jr., Chris Stratton and Wil Crowe gave up two hits – and no earned runs. They combined to strike out six. Stratton struck out the side in the eighth and Crowe picked up his second save with a 1-2-3 ninth. Added bonus: None of the four threw more than 20 pitches, which may leave them available Wednesday night.
• A strong throw from rookie right fielder Jack Suwinski, who nailed the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman trying to stretch a single into a double to lead off the seventh inning of a one-run game. “That was the play of the game,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It has to be perfect. It has to be on line.”
• Three singles from catcher Tyler Heineman, who was 1 for 17 entering the game. The third preceded Marcano’s sacrifice bunt and a two-out RBI double by Bryan Reynolds for a big insurance run in the ninth inning. It was a welcome clutch hit by Reynolds, who was 2 for his previous 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
All of it added up to a second series victory for the Pirates (21-27) against the Dodgers (33-16) in the past three weeks, with one more game to play.
“I can’t really give a reason exactly why,” Chavis said when asked to explain the Pirates’ success against Dodgers. “But I can say it shows what we’re capable of. It takes everybody and it’s been fun to be part of. Needless to say, it’s early in the season. We have a lot of ball to play.”
Keller, who had been working out of the bullpen recently, made his first start since May 13 and earned his first victory of the season as a starter. But he walked five batters and hit another in five innings. He surrendered only two hits – one a two-run homer by Trea Turner – and struck out five batters.
But he was good when it mattered most. He retired Mookie Betts, a former American League MVP and the current NL home run leader (15), with a groundball to third base with a runner on second in the fourth.
In the fifth, Keller struck out Will Smith and Edwin Rios looking with the last of his 98 pitches. Both times, Keller pulled out his new pitch – a sinker – to get strike three.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about and we’ve been working on,” Shelton said. “It was something we’ve toyed with, Mitch talked about, he and Oscar (pitching coach Marin) started to talk about, we’ve been playing with in the bullpen. He unveiled it and it looked to be a really efficient pitch.
“The thing that was important is his four-seamer (fastball) stayed 94 to 97 (mph). His sinker stayed 94 to 97.”
Keller said he tried it once in Chicago on May 18, but he hit the Cubs’ Willson Contreras with the pitch.
He didn’t use it extensively until Tuesday when he threw it more than any pitch (35% of the time). But he also threw a four-seamer, slider, curve and changeup in an attempt to keep the Dodgers guessing.
“Definitely not back on track,” said Keller, who lowered his ERA to 5.77. “Just keep rolling with this one and keep going for the next one. Try to keep the confidence going and let my stuff work in the zone.
“I still don’t feel my command on (the sinker) is really good. A few of those pitches I was trying to go middle in and they were backdoor called strike 3s. It still isn’t where I want it to be, but I do feel comfortable where I have more leeway with the pitch.
“If I do leave it in the middle of the zone or in the zone, it has enough movement where it’s going to keep the batters off balance.”
Pitching kept the game close, but there was much more to the victory, such as Marcano’s bunt, Reynolds’ RBI double and Suwinski’s throw that pleased Shelton.
The manage praised his young team for being “fundamentally sound,” and he also liked the way it responded in a highly charged atmosphere in front of a large crowd.
“You’re playing in probably as good an atmosphere as you’re going to play in all year,” he said. “For our young kids to be able to do that and perform, it’s important for our growth as we continue to develop.”
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