The Pirates had felt all spring that their starters would be improved over last year and that the back end of the bullpen would be solid. They were pleased on both fronts in the early going. But it is equally glaring that the bridge between the starters and closer Joel Hanrahan is all but missing.
Evan Meek, the Pirates' lone All-Star last season, has had two robustly poor outings in the past four games and never was summoned in the 3-2 loss in St. Louis Tuesday night, even though the game was tight throughout.
"I'll be fine," Meek said Tuesday. "I just need to get back out there and pitch like I can."
Meek has been missing -- though not badly -- with his fastball, and hitters have been taking advantage. When he is effective, he is getting some strikeouts but mostly ground balls. Far too many balls have gone into the air.
Rookie Mike Crotta has fared well in middle relief, but many of the rest were on display again Tuesday when the bullpen inherited a 2-2 tie: Jeff Karstens gave up a hit and walk in 1 1/3 innings. Garrett Olson, whose grip on a job is most tenuous in the pen, gave up a run, hit and walk while recording just one out. Chris Resop gave up the tiebreaking single to Albert Pujols on an elevated fastball. And Jose Veras, while having mostly good numbers, has looked erratic at times.
The middle relief hardly cost the Pirates the game Tuesday. That happened when the offense produced nothing after Lyle Overbay's first-inning, two-run home run. But neither has the bullpen begun to shape up as anything other than the weakness that many had feared.
It might change, to a degree, when Joe Beimel returns and likely supplants Olson as the bullpen's lone left-hander, but the far greater variable is Meek rediscovering top form.
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