PITTSBURGH — On Monday and Tuesday, Oneil Cruz and Bligh Madris took turns achieving things not seen from a Pirate in decades. First with a hit, RBI and stolen base in their first game; hardest thrown ball on the infield in the Statcast era; first player with seven RBIs in their first three games. The pair had helped put a charge into a team that was in desperate need of some positive momentum.
On Wednesday in a 14-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs, the Pirates had a player make the sort of history they would have liked to avoid.
With right-hander Zach Thompson on the 15-day injured list, the team needed a spot starter. They called on right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who had a 4.84 ERA in 48 1/3 innings with Class AAA Indianapolis this season. Eickhoff allowed 10 earned runs, including a seven-spot in the second inning, becoming the first pitcher in Pirates history to allow 10 earned runs in his team debut.
What’s more, the last time Eickhoff started an MLB game, he also allowed 10 earned runs as a member of the New York Mets. That fact makes him the first pitcher to allow 10 earned runs or more in back-to-back starts since Chubby Dean with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1940.
The fact that right-hander Chase De Jong tossed 3 2/3 shutout innings to follow Eickhoff up was of little consolation by that point, as the Pirates’ three-game winning streak came crashing to an unsightly halt.
These sorts of games happen, and the Pirates have even been defeated more soundly by the Cubs this season. The outcome was notable still because it suggests a deeper problem with the Pirates’ starting pitching depth at the moment.
The fact that Eickhoff was fully rested to get a start obviously aided in the team’s decision to give him a call, but if it weren’t him, their options would still have been relatively limited. Bryse Wilson was demoted earlier this season, and in his last spot start against the St. Louis Cardinals, he allowed seven earned runs himself over five innings. Right-hander Cody Bolton has put up strong numbers, but the Pirates haven’t given him a call yet, and No. 12 prospect Mike Burrows was only recently promoted to Class AAA after dominating Class AA Altoona.
In the past, they might have called on Max Kranick, but he’s out for the foreseeable future after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A bullpen game may have been feasible, too, especially with De Jong tossing 3 2/3 innings anyway.
Perhaps the fact that the Pirates went with Eickhoff hints that they wanted to give Eickhoff a look at some point this season anyway. Hindsight is 20/20 on that, but the fact that a couple of injuries left them with so few options speaks to the idea that there is more work to be done to build a fuller complement of starting options at the top of the organization.
It’s also fair to find disappointment in the Pirates’ offensive output Wednesday, especially considering they’d scored 19 runs in the first two games of the Cubs series combined. They were completely shut down by Cubs starter Keegan Thompson, who allowed just four hits on the night. All of those came in the first four innings, too, with infielder Diego Castillo’s solo homer — his fifth of the season — the highlight.
Even he wasn’t spared from the indignation of Wednesday’s loss, though. After De Jong got the Pirates through the eighth inning, Shelton called on Castillo to take the mound. He walked two, hit another, then allowed a grand slam to Alfonso Rivas to make it 14-1.
The only real solace came in the ninth inning, when the Pirates rallied for four meaningless runs, scoring them on an RBI error off Cruz’s bat and a three-run, bases-clearing double from Madris. On Monday and Tuesday, it was those types of plays from those two players that drove the Pirates to impressive wins. On Wednesday, those plays provided nothing more than a footnote in an otherwise discouraging defeat.
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