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Four things we learned from the Pirates’ first 4 games

April 9, 2018 GMT

Maybe you haven’t noticed.

Maybe you’ve been too busy fretting about what the Pirates did in the offseason and don’t have time to pay attention to what’s happening in-season.

Or maybe you looked at the standings, saw the Pirates (4-0) are the only undefeated team in all of baseball and said, “Too early. doesn’t matter.”

In any case, here are four thoughts that have surfaced during an admittedly small sample size:

What if the bullpen doesn’t get better?

It sounds strange to ask that question when the bullpen already has recorded three saves, and Felipe Rivero only has two of them. But Edgar Santana, Michael Feliz and Josh Smoker have allowed more hits than innings pitched, and one of them — probably Santana — is pitching in the majors only because the Pirates wanted eight arms in the bullpen.

The original notion makes sense when it’s noted that your starters can’t get beyond the sixth inning, but Hurdle still is looking for that reliable relief pitcher who can consistently get the ball to George Kontos and Rivero with a lead.

Rivero hasn’t been blameless, but he saved both games of a doubleheader — something you’d expect from Elroy Face in 1960, not a reliever in 2018 — and is the Pirates’ best hope of remaining relevant this summer.

The Pirates have allowed 20 runs in four games — 15 of them in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings.

Complicating the situation is the temporary removal of Steven Brault from the bullpen after he threw three scoreless innings in Detroit last week. Brault enters the starting rotation Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds as a replacement for Joe Musgrove (sore shoulder).

Polanco might garner respect

After Polanco’s first-inning RBI double in the home opener, he walked four times, once intentionally.

That has left the No. 3 hitter in the batting order with five hits (four for extra bases) in 13 at-bats. But the critical element facing manager Clint Hurdle when he makes his lineup is writing a name after Polanco’s that pitchers fear.

Over the first two games, Josh Bell followed Polanco and was 5 for 10. Then, Hurdle started to tinker, putting Polanco seventh and second in the order. He was followed by two hitters, Starling Marte and Sean Rodriguez, who totaled eight at-bats and no hits.

Hurdle hasn’t asked, but keeping Polanco third and Bell fourth sounds like a good plan.

Is the defense good enough?

The analytics say yes but with an asterisk.

The Pirates committed two errors in the opener but none in the past three. Two problems come to mind, however.

Polanco has taken bad routes on two well-hit balls to right field, doing his pitchers no favors.

If Jordy Mercer’s finger injury doesn’t heal quickly — and Tuesday’s off day might have helped — Rodriguez will start at shortstop.

Rodriguez can play every position ably, and he has only 57 errors in 11 seasons. But he has played 16 percent (161) of his 992 career games at shortstop while committing 44 percent (25) of his errors.

There isn’t any concern coming from the manager’s office (at least, none that can be heard). But it’s for the best if Mercer’s injury doesn’t linger.

It takes more than 4 games to make a trend

Starting 4-0 provides a nice cushion for the tough stretch of games that starts Monday in Wrigley Field and concludes with 10 consecutive games against the St. Louis Cardinals, Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers (the last seven on the road).

But what’s really important is getting the starting pitchers to throw more innings, the bullpen to cause less angst and Hurdle to keep Polanco and Bell back-to-back.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.