Pittsburgh’s two offseason additions to its rotation have hardly been perfect, but they’ve given the Pirates something they’ve been sorely lacking for years - an ability to miss bats.
A night after A.J. Burnett struck out 10 in Pittsburgh’s walk-off win, Erik Bedard takes the mound against the visiting Washington Nationals on Wednesday looking for a third straight victory after fanning 20 in his last two.
There are many reasons the Pirates (13-16) haven’t had a winning season since 1992, but the lack of a front-end starter is arguably among the biggest.
While they weren’t expecting Burnett or Bedard to be true aces, the veterans have given Pittsburgh something its rotation hasn’t seen in a while. Both Burnett (10.3) and Bedard (9.8) are in the majors’ top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings among pitchers with at least four starts, major outliers for a team that has baseball’s fewest strikeouts since 2007.
On Tuesday, Burnett bounced back from becoming the first Pirates pitcher since 1932 to allow 12 runs in a game, though Joel Hanrahan couldn’t save the right-hander’s second victory. But after Adam LaRoche gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer, Rod Barajas responded with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of the ninth to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 win.
“Pretty exciting, wasn’t it? … I thought what the heck? He’s hit a few homers before,” manager Clint Hurdle said of the decision to let Barajas - who was hitting .127 without an RBI this season - bat.
Like Burnett, Bedard (2-4, 2.65 ERA) has had his early hiccups, though his 0-4 start was due as much to a lack of run support as his elevated pitch counts.
He’s thrown a combined 200 pitches over just 10 innings in his last two starts, but a bevy of strikeouts contributed to that. He fanned nine in a 4-2 win at Atlanta on April 28, then struck out 11 over five innings in a 6-3 victory over hot-hitting St. Louis on Thursday - including seven straight at one point.
“I was throwing pitches and they were swinging through it,” Bedard said. “I guess I was in a good groove. I don’t remember getting seven.”
Bedard has an impressive if brief history of making the Nationals (18-11) swing and miss. He’s struck out 30 in 19 innings over three starts but is 0-1 despite a 1.42 ERA.
Washington counters with Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59), who hasn’t been missing many bats but has been successful nonetheless. The left-hander struck out two but turned in his third straight quality start Thursday, holding Arizona to one run and three hits over a season-high 6 1-3 innings in a 2-1 win.
Opponents are hitting .190 off Detwiler overall, with lefties batting .083 (2 for 24) with nine strikeouts.
“I was really impressed with Det,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He was my star of the game.”
Detwiler has faced the Pirates just once - his first major league start May 18, 2009. He gave up three runs and four hits over five innings.
Pedro Alvarez and Pittsburgh’s other lefties shouldn’t be the only ones concerned about facing Detwiler, however. Left-handers have the exact same numbers - 2 for 24 with nine strikeouts - against Bedard.
Facing lefties hasn’t exactly bothered Bryce Harper thus far, though. The Nationals phenom is 5 for 11 over his first nine games in the majors after hitting just .190 against southpaws this season in the minors.