February 2, 2023

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Brubaker outpitches his line with career-high 10 K's

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CHICAGO — All it takes is one inning, or play, in baseball to change the whole complexion of a game. That unfortunately happened right in front of JT Brubaker — who received no offensive or defensive help on a night he struck out a career-high 10.

Michael Chavis — who was responsible for one of the Pirates’ many defensive miscues — really felt for the right-hander, who clearly had his stuff in this one.

“As soon as I saw Shelty [manager Derek Shelton] coming out to pull him, you feel bad,” Chavis said. “You see the dude throw so well, you want him to have good results. It was just kind of unlucky. He looked great. Just sucks.”

Despite Brubaker doing as much as he could on the mound, it wasn’t nearly enough for the Pirates in their 7-0 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.

“I felt good,” Brubaker said. “Finally felt like I was getting back to where I was in Spring Training, earlier in the year after being sick. Strength, energy, everything was clicking on time. It felt like it was all back.”

Brubaker’s stat line — 5 2/3 innings, six hits, six runs (four earned) and three walks with 10 strikeouts — would suggest that the right-hander had a below-average outing. After all, his six hits were a season-high and his four earned runs tied a season-high.

But the right-hander pitched better than his final line suggested. His 10 strikeouts were a career-high and the 19 swings and misses he induced were tied for the second-most of his career.

“I thought the slider was good,” Shelton said. “He was really effective, and I give him a ton of credit because he held his composure when things went awry around him. He continued to execute pitches and ended up giving us almost six innings.”

Brubaker did most of his work with his slider — thrown on 43 percent of his pitches — and for good measure. He recorded a career-high 16 whiffs on 22 swings and a career-high eight punchouts on the slider.

“Slider was definitely there,” Brubaker said. “I felt everything was clicking. As long as I continue in that direction, I feel like my stuff will stay.”

What was even better on those strikeouts was the location. They were all in the lower quadrant of the zone — mixing in low and away or low and outside — and it worked for success.

Brubaker’s efficiency came from the slider, and he didn’t miss too many of his spots. But when he did — on the home run to Jonathan Villar in the third inning and the two-run double by Seiya Suzuki in the fourth — they were sinkers left over the plate.

“I thought Brubaker threw the ball well,” Shelton said. “I thought he made two bad pitches the whole night, the pitch to Seiya and the pitch to Villar. But other than that, he threw really well.”

Tuesday’s odd fourth inning falls into one of the team’s wildest innings of the season — the no hits but scoring a run and winning the game on Sunday also falls into that category.

The difference on Tuesday was the Pirates were on the wrong side. They went from almost tying the game to everything falling apart.

Vogelbach’s stand-up triple — his first triple of his career — could have been the turn-around for an offense that has scored just one run in its last 30 innings. But after getting thrown out at home trying to tag up on a flyout to right field on the very next play, the benches cleared following a brief heated exchange with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and everything went downhill for the Pirates from there.

“Right after the thing with Vogey at home plate, guys were excited, which is fine,” Chavis said. “Guys get excited. It’s good for the game. I felt like that was just kind of a change of pace for us, too.”

After a throwing error by shortstop Rodolfo Castro in the first play of the bottom of the fourth inning, the Pirates allowed the ensuing batter to reach base on an infield popup when nobody made a play on the ball. Then, Yoshi Tsutsugo bobbled a ground ball at first base and Villar beat it out, allowing another run to score.

The Cubs scored five times that fourth inning.

“We didn’t play good defense,” Shelton said. “We just didn’t help [Brubaker] out. We have to play better defense.”

Two of those miscues were charged as hits against Brubaker, and he was charged with three earned runs in that inning. But the right-hander looked past the defensive struggles after his outing.

“Things didn’t go our way. Just try to pick up your teammates as much as you can,” Brubaker said.

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