CINCINNATI -- The Pirates did not acquire Joakim Soria for nights like Thursday, when their starter didn’t have it and they were behind early. But Thursday’s game showed the worst-case scenario for a bullpen that has been strong all year but faltered recently.
Deolis Guerra allowed six runs and seven hits in 11/3i innings, including two home runs. Antonio Bastardo allowed a run without allowing a hit because he walked three guys. Guerra allowed a run for the third outing in a row. Arquimedes Caminero retired the only batter he faced Thursday but had allowed two runs twice in his past four outings. Since the All-Star break, the Pirates’ bullpen ERA was 4.80 (prior to Thursday’s game), 25th in MLB.
Jared Hughes, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson can’t pitch every game, so the Pirates lengthened the bullpen by acquiring Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria.
“Part of it was availability, part of it was acquisition cost, part of it is opportunity,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “As we look at the club after we acquired Ramirez, we wanted to stay open-minded and stay flexible and versatile and add to the club the best way we felt possible, whether it's the team on the field or the organization as a whole. As we looked at the entirety of the board, who was available, what was available, what the acquisition costs were, we felt these were our best moves.”
The Pirates have not been able to upgrade first base, mostly because they have not been able to find a taker for Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez showed both ends of his spectrum Thursday night, driving a long home run but also throwing a ball into the outfield and allowing a run to score.
Huntington said he didn’t see the Pirates upgrading their rotation.
“We don't see the ability to acquire somebody that we would drop into the rotation ahead of one of our current starters at the present time,” he said. “We like our internal depth, we like our depth. As we sit here right now, given the acquisition cost of the starters that were out there, given the quality of the starters that are out there in comparison to what we believe we have internally, we went with the moves that we went with.”
That could become a problem after A.J. Burnett’s outing Thursday. In three starts since the All-Star break, he has allowed twice as many hits (32) as innings pitched (16), with 18 earned runs.
“I was not able to throw anything pretty much where I wanted to,” Burnett said.
In Charlie Morton’s past six starts, he has a 5.20 ERA and 37 hits allowed in 361/3 innings.
Gregory Polanco, the only other position player for whom the Pirates might have looked for an upgrade or platoon situation, is hitting better than .300 since the middle of the month, with an OPS of more than .800. The first-base situation is what it is. Which brings the Pirates back to the bullpen, their chosen unit to upgrade.
Last year’s Royals displayed how effective a strong back end can be, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland blowing everyone away and shortening games to six innings. The Yankees have some of that going on this year with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
The other thing about going for an edge in the bullpen: Relievers are easier to acquire and cost less than starters. The Pirates will not part with the prospects it will take to get a two-month rental like David Price or Johnny Cueto, or at least the front office has shown no indication of doing so. (Last year, they had an offer out for Price, but he had another year of control, meaning the Pirates could have traded him in the winter and recovered what their farm system lost). Instead, they target A) players with years of control remaining or B) rentals who don’t cost too much to get. Aramis Ramirez cost a minor league right-handed reliever. Blanton cost cash considerations. Soria cost the most, talented young shortstop JaCoby Jones, but he still had only just reached double-A. Huntington and his staff have been successful in the past at finding pitchers who, with help from Ray Searage and Jim Benedict, can be effective, or rediscover a previous level of performance. These types of players often come at a bargain (think Vance Worley for cash).
The Pirates will pay Blanton and Soria less than $3 million for the remainder of the season. Starters cost a lot of money to sign (Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke, etc.) and young ones get pricy in arbitration. As always when discussing the Pirates’ finances, which I know are a third rail at times, I’m not arguing for or against these policies, merely offering an explanation. There is an argument to be made to spend, especially with more and more national TV revenue coming in each year.
The trade deadline is 4 p.m. today.
Game story from Stephen J. Nesbitt: Burnett, bullpen shelled as Pirates lose to Reds.
Pirates notebook: Worley designated for assignment.
My apologies on Thursday’s chat: The plane broke on my connection to Cincinnati. We’ll do it today, at noon. You can find it here.
INDIANAPOLIS (60-46) beat Columbus, 2-1. RHP Wilfredo Boscan (7-3, 3.55) was the winner, giving up 1 run, 3 hits and 4 walks in 6 innings. 2B Alen Hanson (.274) hit a 2-run home run. CF Keon Broxton (.240) doubled twice and tripled.
ALTOONA (57-49) lost to Akron, 4-2. RHP Jason Creasy (8-5, 4.43) was the loser, allowing 3 runs and 4 hits in 6 innings. RF Jose Osuna (.307) homered. 1B Josh Bell (.310) went 2 for 3 with an RBI.
BRADENTON (52-50) did not play.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (60-42) beat Lakewood, 7-4. LHP Stephen Tarpley (8-2, 2.26) was the winner, giving up 4 runs - 3 earned - and 7 hits in 6 innings. 3B Jordan Luplow (.250) went 2 for 4 with a 2-run homer. RF Michael Suchy (.286) went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (20-19) lost to Tri-City, 5-3. RHP Seth McGarry (1-1, 4.46) was the loser, allowing 4 runs and 2 hits in 2 2/3 innings. RF Logan Hill (.336) tripled and homered.
GCL PIRATES (18-11) beat GCL Astros, 7-5. LHP Gerardo Navarro (1.98) gave up 5 runs – 1 earned – and 3 hits in 5 innings. RHP Richard Mitchell (2-2, 4.26) was the winner. 1B Jhoan Herrera (.330) had 3 RBIs. DH Ke’Bryan Hayes (.366) had an RBI and scored a run.
BRISTOL (15-19) beat Greeneville, 4-3. RHP Gage Hinsz (6.14) allowed 1 run and 2 hits in 5 innings. RHP Scooter Hightower (3-1, 2.42) was the winner. 3B Julio De La Cruz (.262) doubled twice and drove in 2 runs.
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates have traded minor league infielder Justin Sellers to the Chicago White Sox, according to a source familiar with the move.
Sellers, 29, did not appear in the majors with the Pirates this season. He began the season on the disabled list because of an injury to his left Achilles’ tendon. The Pirates recently put him on waivers, and when he cleared, they recalled him from his rehab assignment and sent him outright to Class AAA Indianapolis.
It is not immediately known what the Pirates got in return for Sellers, but it likely isn’t much, possibly a minor leaguer, player to be named later or cash.
Update 7:01 p.m.: The trade is official and has been announced.
Update: The trade is complete, but not yet announced. The Pirates will send Class AA Altoona shortstop JaCoby Jones to the Tigers for Soria.
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates and Tigers are making progress on a trade that would send right-handed reliever Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, according to sources.
The Pirates have been trying to upgrade their bullpen in advance of the deadline and believed they strengthened it by adding Joe Blanton. Soria would give them another late-inning reliever to pair with Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon.
Soria, 31, is a free agent after this season and is making $7 million this season. He has a 2.85 ERA in 41 innings and has saved 23 games.
Game: Pirates (59-41) at Reds (45-54)
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Site: Great American Ball Park
TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 82 and sunny
CINCINNATI -- The Pirates designated Vance Worley for assignment to make room for Joe Blanton, who was purchased from the Royals. The Pirates have 10 days to trade or release Worley, or if he clears waivers they can send him outright to Class AAA Indianapolis. Worley can refuse the assignment if he chooses. More to come on the blog soon.
1. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
2. Starling Marte LF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Jung Ho Kang SS
6. Francisco Cervelli C
7. Pedro Alvarez (L) 1B
8. Neil Walker (S) 2B
9. A.J. Burnett RHP
1. Brandon Phillips 2B
2. Ivan De Jesus Jr. 3B
3. Joey Votto (L) 1B
4. Marlon Byrd LF
5. Jay Bruce (L) RF
6. Eugenio Suarez SS
7. Tucker Barnhart (S) C
8. David Holmberg LHP
9. Billy Hamilton (S) CF