By John Perrotto
The problem with young hitters—the Pirates have four of them in the top five spots of the batting order—is that they have their ups and downs.
That was the case in Thursday’s home opener as the Rockies’ Esmil Rogers, who has just three major-league wins, stymied the Pirates on one run and four hits in 7 1/3 innings in a 7-1 victory at PNC Park. That came a day after the Pirates scratched out a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals and nemesis Chris Carpenter at St. Louis. It was just Carpenter’s second loss in 14 career decisions against the Pirates.
Rogers gave up singles to Jose Tabata and Neil Walker to lead off the bottom of the first inning Rockies took a 2-0 lead in the top half of the inning then did not allow another hit until Ronny Cedeno and pinch-hitter Steve Pearce hit consecutive one-out singles in the eighth while down six runs. Rogers retired 22 of 23 batters between the pair of back-to-back hits, including 18 in a row before Cedeno broke the string.
So was it a matter of Rogers pitching well or the Pirates not intelligently attacking him?
“He elevated his fastball and got us to chase some pitches up,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “At the same time, Essie pitched well, too. So it was a combination of both. I wouldn’t say our guys had bad at-bats, they just got a little impatient at times and swung at some fastballs that were probably out of the strike zone.”
Rogers threw hard as his fastball averaged 94 mph and topped out at 96, Yet he also threw just 14 of his 27 first pitches for strikes, which meant that the Pirates were in good hitting counts. The Pirates failed to capitalize, though, as they had only five balls that could be considered hard hit.
Rogers threw 38 of his 56 fastballs for strikes and 11 of his 13 changeups. That was enough to get him through on a day when he managed strikes on just 13 of 25 breaking pitches.
“We had a hard time catching up to his fastball,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “In retrospect, we probably should have laid off a few more fastballs and made him throw more off-speed stuff. It’s hard to not swing at the fastball high in the strike zone, though, because it always seems like a hittable pitch and he had enough velocity to get it by us.”