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Diamondbacks 5, Pirates 6: Mejia-league D-backs debut blown by bullpen

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before...

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Record: 42-84. Pace: 54-108. Change on 2004: +3.

Humberto Mejia was solid enough making his first start for the D-backs since coming over from the Marlins in the Starling Marte trade at the 2020 deadline. Unfortunately, the difference on this night in Pittsburgh was the bullpen performances:
Arizona: 3 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO
Pittsburgh: 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO
The D-backs blew a four-run lead here, with the Pirates scoring the winning run without the benefit of a hit. It was the 31st loss charged to the Arizona bullpen this season: the franchise record of 35, set in 2018, is surely within sight.

The top of the first saw the Diamondbacks do what the Diamondbacks do, and strand runners in scoring position. The victims were Ketel Marte who singled, and Carson Kelly, who doubled. The perpetrator was David Peralta, whose struggles continued with a ground-out. But at least he put the ball in play. Nothing sums up the Freight Train's derailment this year than his AB that ended the third. Four pitches, none in the zone. Four swings. Result?

Humberto Mejia took over for his first inning as a D-back. It could not have started better: fastball, fastball, change-up = swinging strikeout. There was then a single, and on the flyball out which followed, Torey Lovullo burned his challenge. This was on Asdrubal Cabrera's belief the runner hadn't touched second base, while returning to first. He may not have done, but replays were inconclusive. However, Mejia stranded the runner, despite an Ahmed error-that-wasn't leading to a stolen base. Humberto then got a lead, as Daulton Varsho homered for the third game in a row (below). It's his second such streak of the season: he also homered in three straight from July 21-24. I think he's the only D-back rookie to have performed the feat.

The score remained 1-0 to Arizona until the bottom of the fourth when Mejia was greeted with back-to-back doubles, the second of which tied the game. However, he recovered nicely to strand that runner, retiring the pitcher to end the inning. With hindsight, the Pirates should have batted for him, as the Diamondbacks sent eight to the plate in the tip of the fifth. Things kicked off with Mejia getting his first major-league hit, doubling to the wall in right center (though he was batting .250 for the Aces). He scored the go-ahead run on a Marte single, and Arizona loaded the bases as Kelly was grazed by a pitch, and Peralta was the lucky recipient of a squib-shot that just kissed the edge of the third-base bag for an infield single.

Christian Walker then emptied the bags, blasting the ball off the wall in right-center (below). Can't be many singles which a) drive in three runs, or b) measure 384 feet. It gave Arizona a 5-1 lead, and Mejia made it stand up, despite a lead-off triple which subsequently scored, in the bottom of the fifth. That ended his night, the debutant having reached the "sound barrier" of 99 pitches. Humberto allowed six hits and two walks (one intentional), for two runs. He struck out seven, which I am informed is most by a Diamondback debut since Ian Kennedy got eight K's in 2010. Pretty much all we could have wanted, though the Pirates line-up is a VERY soft landing.

Indeed, coming in, their OPS+ was only 78, the worst in the majors. Indeed, if that is sustained, it’ll be the lowest by any MLB team over a full season since the 2013 Marlins (73). However, the Arizona bullpen would do their best to help. For it was now up to them to try and give Mejia his first major-league victory (he was 0-2 in his starts with the Marlins last year, when everyone else was COVIDy). J.B. Wendelken worked a scoreless sixth, but Taylor Clarke gave up a lead-off homer and one-out walk (though the latter should have grounded out, had the home umpire not inexplicably called a ball on the plate foul). Joe Mantiply gave up an RBI triple, and a ground-out tied the game, and Mejia's hopes of a win vanished like morning dew.

Things did not get any better in the eighth. Like Mejia, Noé Ramirez started out with a three-pitch K. However, he then completely lost the strike zone, and walked each of the next three hitters he faced. Jake Faria took over, but a weak groundout proved enough to give the Pirates their first lead of the game. Arizona went down in order in the ninth - indeed, the last hit the offense mustered, was Walker’s bases-clearing single in the fifth inning. Adding insult to injury, the win went to former Diamondback Anthony Banda. Dealt to the Rays in the Stephen Souza/Taylor Widener trade of 2018, he had since been a Giant and Met before landing on the Pirates. He struck out his old team on 15 pitches in the top of the eighth.

Marte had two hits and a walk, while Peralta and Kelly each reached base twice, on a hit and a walk. But Josh Rojas’s hot streak is officially over: 0-for-5 with two strikeouts tonight, meaning he is now 2-for-15 on this roadtrip. Cabrera also went 0-for-5 with two K’s, an error, and a lost challenge. Here’s the post-game audio from Carson Kelly, Torey Lovullo and Humberto Mejia.

Click for details at Fangraphs.com
Blade: Christian Walker, +17.2%
Deacon Frost: Joe Mantiply, -28.0%
Quinn: Rojas, -19.5%; Ramirez, -16.9%; Cabrera, -11.8%

Present in the Gameday Thread tonight were: AzDbackfanInDc, Diamondhacks, GuruB, Jack Sommers, James Attwood, Jim McLennan, Makakilo, MesaDBacksFan, Michael McDermott, NikT77, Smurf-1000, Snake_Bitten, blue_bulldog, gzimmerm, kilnborn and since_98. Comment of the night to blue bulldog for this bit of prescience.

What should have been a victory, and a couple of shots at the first road series win since late April, instead turns into just another bullpen meltdown. Everyone will try and do a bit better tomorrow night, Starting for the D-backs will be Madison Bumgarner. who has been easily the team’s best starter in the second half. The longer he keeps the bullpen out of the game, I’m sure the happier we will all be...