The Pirates were swept by the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on Thursday after a series of dubious eighth-inning bullpen decisions by manager Clint Hurdle.
Pirates starter James McDonald allowed home runs to Geovany Soto, Carlos Pena and Blake DeWitt in the first four innings, but helped his own cause by keying the Pirates' six-run fourth with a bases-clearing double. He then managed to get through seven innings for the first time this season.
He left with a 6-4 lead after seven, and in the top of the eighth, Hurdle brought in Dan McCutchen, who allowed the first three batters in to reach base (one on what appeared to be a mistaken hit-by-pitch call).
Then, for some reason, Hurdle turned to Jason Grilli, perhaps his worst reliever, with the bases loaded, no outs and a two-run lead. Grilli allowed an RBI single. Hurdle then brought in lefty Joe Beimel to face lefty Carlos Pena. Beimel walked in a run. Finally, Hurdle brought in a good reliever, Jose Veras, who allowed a sacrifice fly to give the Cubs a 7-6 lead but got three straight outs.
Joel Hanrahan, the Bucs' best reliever and the pitcher who should have been brought in after McCutchen allowed three baserunners in the eighth, then pitched the ninth, by which point the Pirates were behind.
Hurdle has done an awful job using Hanrahan over the past couple weeks. He seems to be dead-set on using Hanrahan in save situations, which means he misses all kinds of opportunities to use his best reliever when the game is on the line. This is a common problem with modern managers, who seem to prefer to let their closers accumulate saves (an arbitrary statistic that didn't even exist until a few decades ago) instead of letting them help win games. But Hurdle has been especially egregious in that regard recently.
Hanrahan should have been in the game as soon as McCutchen got into trouble in the eighth. And even if Hurdle had decided not to go with Hanrahan there, the decision to use Grilli was perverse.