Before the first pitch was thrown in the San Diego Padres’ 4-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night, the visitors confronted a series of injury problems.
The injuries hurt on multiple levels, but the most critical situation emerged in the sixth inning of a game watched by a crowd of 41,888 at Petco Park:
Veteran Josh VanMeter failed to perform the basic task of stepping on first base. The error led to two unearned runs against starter Jose Quintana and, ultimately, the Pirates’ fifth loss in their past seven games.
“It’s a tough situation. He just got behind the bag, ”Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of VanMeter.
Earlier in the day, regular first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo was placed on the 10-day injured list with a lumbar muscle strain. Then, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was out of the lineup with back issues.
Shelton hopes Hayes is able to return Saturday night when the Pirates face former teammate Joe Musgrove, who has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League with a 5-0 record and 1.90 ERA.
“We have to make sure he’s able to stay on the field,” Shelton said of Hayes. “It’s a day-to-day thing. Hopefully, he sleeps on it (and) it’s better (and) we can get him back in there (Saturday). ”
Coupled with previous injuries to shortstop Kevin Newman and outfielder Jake Marisnick, losing Tsutsugo and Hayes forced the Pirates to open the game with an exceedingly young lineup that proceeded to get younger. It included 23-year-olds Rodolfo Castro at third base, Cal Mitchell in right field and Jack Suwinski in left and Diego Castillo, 24, at shortstop.
Later in the game, 22-year-old Tucupita Marcano entered for first baseman Michael Chavis, who struck out twice while dealing with a sore elbow. Chavis was hit by a pitch Wednesday, and he is also day-to-day, Shelton said.
“It’s stinging him (when he swings),” Shelton said. “We’re going to have to see where he’s at (Saturday).”
When Chavis left the game, Marcano played second base, VanMeter moved to first and the defensive shift haunted the Pirates (18-26) in the bottom of the sixth.
Quintana opened the inning by allowing a single to Jurickson Profar. With one out, Eric Hosmer dropped a dribbler in the infield that was fielded by catcher Tyler Heineman, who spun around and appeared to get the out at first base. But VanMeter, playing the position for the first time this season, failed to step on the bag in time.
The error gave the Padres runners on first and second with one out and ended Quintana’s night after 96 pitches. Wil Crowe relieved and got Wil Myers to fly to the right field for what should have been the final out of the inning. But Luke Voit, the next batter, made the Pirates pay for the defensive gaffe by hitting a three-run homer that tied the score, 3-3.
The Padres scored the decisive run in the bottom of the eighth inning on Myers’ broken-bat RBI single off Duane Underwood Jr.
Quintana deserved a better fate, working 5 ⅓ innings and allowing four singles – one that didn’t get past the infield grass – and two unearned runs.
Facing a lineup that has carried the Padres (29-16) within two games of first place in the National League West, Quintana struck out four and walked two while making good use of his changeup. Quintana’s ERA has dropped to a career-low 2.15.
“I thought he was really good,” Shelton said. “I thought he was really effective. That’s probably one of the better lineups in the National League. I thought he navigated it really well. ”
“I never lost my focus,” Quintana said, “and kept throwing the ball well, giving me a chance to keep the game close.”
Yet, he faced serious trouble when he opened the fourth inning by walking Manny Machado and Hosmer. After an out, Heineman picked off Machado, who had wandered too far off second base. Quintana did his part, striking out Voit to end the inning.
The Pirates led 3-0 through five innings after Bryan Reynolds’ sixth home run in the first and Castillo’s two-run double in the fourth. Reynolds tied Daniel Vogelbach, who is on the injured list, for the team lead in home runs.
Shelton gave credit to Reynolds, who worked on his right-handed swing before the game with hitting coach Andy Haines.
“They were out on the field early,” Shelton said. “Seeing the fruits of putting in the labor was good to see. I definitely thought he had better swings. ”
But the Pirates managed only two more hits after Castillo’s double. Playing in his hometown, Mitchell doubled in the fourth and Marcano added an infield single in the sixth while pinch-hitting for Chavis.
Padres starting pitcher Sean Manaea and closer Taylor Rogers, who recorded his 17th save, throw left-handed, which worked in their favor. The Pirates ended up with five left-handed hitters in their lineup by the end of the game.
“We have so many left-handers,” Shelton said. “I thought Manaea did a really good job of settling down and using his off-speed stuff as we got through the game and it kind of kept us off-balance.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .