DENVER — The Pirates’ strong start has been something of a slow burn, having everything to do with pitching. Coming into the series opener in Colorado, Pittsburgh’s starting rotation had recorded six consecutive quality starts. Rich Hill kept the streak going Monday, pitching six innings with one run allowed, but he shared top billing with the Pirates’ lineup, which ignited a 16-hit eruption for a season-high 14 runs.
It was a back-to-basics approach, to hear both the players and manager tell it, with the team focusing on fundamental baseball and doing little things right en route to a 14-3 romp over the Rockies at Coors Field.
“We did a lot of good things,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We got on the board early and then we just continued to grind. [Carlos] Santana, playing in his 1,800th game, beats out a double-play ball on a play that probably goes completely unnoticed. Ke’Bryan Hayes makes a good play on a ball, steps on the bag and because of his arm [turns a double play]. We did a lot of really little things.”
Connor Joe, who made his return to Coors Field, where he played the last two seasons for the Rockies, opened the second inning with a leadoff walk against Colorado ace Kyle Freeland and sparked a six-run frame.
Five players had multihit nights, and Mark Mathias led the way with a career-high four hits. He was 1-for-15 in five games entering Monday, but he quadrupled his output, hitting singles to center and right and beating out a pair of infield singles to second and third.
“I was just trying to do too much earlier in these first couple of games,” Mathias said. “It’s a new team. A lot of new teammates, new coaching staff. It’s easy to try to press and do too much to try to impress a lot of people, but [Shelton] pulled me in the office [in St. Louis] and he just told me, ‘Just have quality at-bats. Don’t try to chase hits. Just try to do what you do best.’”
Andrew McCutchen started the surge with a solo homer in the first inning, extending his dominance at Coors Field, where he is a career .308 hitter with nine homers, seven doubles, three triples, and 24 RBIs. With his second hit — a seventh-inning single — McCutchen tied Dave Parker for 13th-most hits in franchise history with 1,479.
“It’s important when you lengthen out the game and when the bottom of your lineup is able to do damage,” Shelton said. “We know the guys in the middle are going to get hits and they’re going to contribute. But the thing that I really liked about the entire game is we did not give away any at-bats.”
And it doesn’t get much better than Hill’s start, especially at Coors Field. He let up six hits and two walks in his six frames, striking out seven in his strongest performance of the season. His lone run came on a Kris Bryant solo homer in the third.
“It’s the consistency of the guys that are going out there, it’s the effort,” Hill said of the string of quality starts from the Pirates’ rotation. “When you put that onus on the hitter, it makes it hard, and that’s something that we’ve been doing from Spring Training, and it’s carried over into the season, and now we’re seeing the results.”
Hill chalked up his own successful outing to his ability to harness his energy on the mound.
“It was just that intensity, that effort that continued to build over the six innings,” Hill said. “That’s why I’ve been able to play for as long as I have been able to play, is that intensity.”
Hill joined Diomedes Olivo (1962) and Babe Adams (‘25) as the only Pirate pitchers aged 43 or older to earn a win, and he joined Jamie Moyer (49 years old, 2012) and Randy Johnson (43, ‘07) as the only pitchers 43 or older to toss at least six innings and allow one earned run or fewer in a start at Coors Field.
Jack Suwinski capped the outburst with a Statcast-projected 461-foot blast to the second deck in right in the ninth, the longest homer by a Pirate this season and tied for the team’s ninth longest in the Statcast era (since 2015).
“You think this is fun as you’re scoring all these runs, but then you also think we’re in Colorado in this ballpark,” Shelton said. “There’s not a lead that’s really safe in this ballpark.”