Andrew McCutchen gave the Buccos a 1-0 lead with a solo shot in the first inning of Washington starter Ross Detweiler and Jordy Mercer put Pittsburgh on top for good in the fifth when he blasted a two-run shot to left with Starling Marte on base. McCutchen’s homer was his fourth of the season, and Mercer’s blast was his first of the season in his first major-league appearance after receiving his call-up Friday afternoon.
“[Detweiler] was pounding fastballs, had good velocity. I told myself I was going to go after the 2-0 pitch and see what happens and I was successful,” Mercer said. “Anything I can do to help the team win, and it was a good win.”
Mercer was called up Friday to replace second baseman Neil Walker on the active roster as he was placed on the 15-day disabled list. The move was made retroactive to April 27, meaning Walker is eligible to return to action on May 12.
Mercer hit second on Friday as a byproduct of his recent hot-hitting at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he was raking at a .333 clip through 26 games.
“I hit him second because he’s been hot,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “One of the things I’m a big fan of is when you get these guys up from Indianapolis, if they’ve been playing well, to get them in as quick as we can.”
Mercer himself felt it paid off, as he was able to get right in the literal swing of things with his home run in his second major league at-bat of 2013.
“I think that having the confidence that I got down there, I can bring it up here and stay with my gameplan,” Mercer said.
After McCutchen’s home run, the Pirates did not record another hit until the fourth inning when McCutchen singled to lead off the inning. In the meantime, the Nationals tied the contest at 1-1 when first baseman Adam LaRoche walked with two outs, Tyler Moore singled, and Danny Espinosa brought LaRoche home from second with an RBI single to right field.
The inning ended on that play though as right fielder Brandon Inge was unable to nab LaRoche with a throw to Russell Martin at home plate, who then fired to Pedro Alvarez at third for the put-out of Moore as he attempted to take third base on the play.
Pittsburgh threated to immediately re-take the lead in the bottom half of the inning as McCutchen singled to start the inning and Martin drew a one-out walk, putting men on first and third with just one out. But Detweiler managed to strike out Inge and Alvarez and end the Pirates’ scoring chance.
McCutchen finished his day 3-for-4 as he continues to pull his average up after a slump that saw him go 2-for-26 over seven games last week. In his last four games, McCutchen is 8-for-17 and his average now sits at .257 which Hurdle deems unsurprising.
“I wouldn’t that would surprise you, I think the fact that he hadn’t turned it on would probably surprise me more,” Hurdle said. “He’s finding his rhythm at the plate, he’s cleaner on his takeaway now swinging the bat.”
The inability to capitalize in the fourth failed to hurt the Pirates in the scope of nine innings however, as Mercer sent a ball just over the left-field wall and the outstretched glove of left fielder Bryce Harper.
Pittsburgh’s pitching provided little for the offense to stress about as A.J. Burnett (3-2) out-dueled Detweiler (1-3). Burnett scattered one run and five hits over seven innings, while walking only one batter and striking out nine to run his total up to 57 strikeouts in 42 innings of work in 2013.
“That’s 34 doing what 34 does, to quote [Pittsburgh Steelers] coach [Mike] Tomlin,” Hurdle said. “The one walk, the nine punch-outs, first-pitch strikes. Plus, he retired eight hitters on three pitches or less, so that’s what got him through the seventh inning.”
Detweiler’s day was done after five-plus innings when manager Davey Johnson gave him the hook following a lead-off walk drawn by Martin to start the sixth inning. Detweiler allowed three runs on six hits, walked two, and struck out five.
Burnett’s performance for the Pirates allowed Hurdle to hand the ball to the tandem of “Mark and Cheese” in the eighth with Mark Melancon working a scoreless eighth and Jason Grilli striking out the side in the ninth to earn his league-leading 12th save after he was named the Delivery Man of the Month in April earlier in the afternoon.
Part of Melancon’s outing saw Chad Tracy reach on an error by Alvarez on a line drive, and then move to third base on a single by shortstop Ian Desmond. With two outs and Bryce Harper at the plate, Melancon notched a massive strikeout to escape danger.
“Melancon’s gone after everybody this year, that’s the way you get it,” Hurdle said.
The work done by the bullpen helped push the Pirates record to 13-0 when leading after seven innings, and finished off Burnett’s third win of the year.