PITTSBURGH — Maybe Jeanmar Gomez should be given short notice every time he pitches.
The Pittsburgh right-hander tossed five shutout innings after being thrust into the starting role less than three hours before game time, helping the Pirates to a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.
Gomez allowed just two hits, walked two and struck out five while dropping his ERA to 2.38, heady territory considering that the team’s primary long reliever had already gone through his usual pregame routine when manager Clint Hurdle beckoned him to his office and said he needed somebody to fill in for injured James McDonald.
The struggling right-hander was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday after experiencing tightness in his throwing shoulder. Enter Gomez, acquired in a trade with Cleveland in January. He made the team as a utility pitcher and is becoming more valuable by the week.
“It’s really hard because you throw already, you play catch and you do your workout,” Gomez said. “But you know if the team needs me and the manager asks me, I feel ready.”
He certainly looked ready before giving way to Pittsburgh’s dominant bullpen. The Mariners never got a runner to third base during Gomez’s 66-pitch effort.
“A guy comes in here at 4 o’clock and you tell him he’s going to start, to get that effort we were real happy,” Hurdle said. “He continues to show up and do a very professional job in whatever we tell him to do.”
Five relievers kept the lead intact, with closer Jason Grilli delivering a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 13th save as the Pirates improved to 14-0 when leading after seven innings. Andrew McCutchen went 4 for 4 with an RBI-double and Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the eighth to pad the lead.
Aaron Harang (1-4) posted his second strong outing, but received little help from Seattle’s anemic offense. Raul Ibanez provided a pinch-hit RBI-double in the seventh to pull the Mariners within a run, but Seattle would get no closer.
“We didn’t have much time to prepare for (Gomez) and everybody scrambled to do the best they could to get ready,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “Be that as it may, the kid pitched a good ballgame. He had a good sinker, a good slider that he kept sweeping off the plate. He threw a good ballgame.”
The Pirates traded for Gomez in January hoping the 25-year-old could find a role on a pitching staff that’s had trouble staying healthy.
He’s flourished when summoned from out of the blue. Gomez was pressed into action three batters into the game against St. Louis last month when starter Jonathan Sanchez was ejected, then took over Sanchez’s spot last week against Milwaukee after the Pirates and Sanchez parted ways.
Still, he wasn’t planning on working early Tuesday until the McDonald informed Hurdle that his right shoulder didn’t feel right. McDonald has struggled with his command and his velocity all season and began the day with a 2-2 record and a 5.76 ERA while hardly looking like the pitcher who nearly made the All-Star team last summer.
McDonald said his shoulder felt “cranky” after his previous start in Milwaukee. He expected it to get better. It didn’t.
Placing McDonald on the disabled list means Gomez likely will get another chance to start on Sunday in New York.
Seattle came in 7-3 over its last 10 games while trying to erase a woeful start, but couldn’t find a way to solve Gomez.
The Mariners offered little resistance against Gomez, their only real push coming with a brief two-out rally in the third when Michael Saunders singled and former Pirates All-Star Jason Bay walked. Kyle Seager lined out to left to end the threat and Gomez exited without letting anyone get to third base.
The Pirates gave Gomez all the offense he would need in the first inning. Starling Marte led off with a bunt single off Harang then scored on Travis Snider’s RBI-double. McCutchen followed with a double to left-center and the Pirates were up 2-0.
McCutchen’s double extended his hot streak. The All-Star center fielder is now 13 of his last 27 (.481) in his last seven games while raising his average from .216 to .276.
Harang has endured a difficult start to his 12th season in the majors, but appears to be turning it around. The 34-year-old picked up his first win last week against Baltimore and gave up just two runs over six innings, striking out six to lower his ERA to from 8.68 to 7.30.
“We’ve done our work trying to figure things out and I’ve been where I need to be in these last two starts,” Harang said.
Ibanez drew the Mariners within 2-1 in the seventh with a double off Pittsburgh reliever Jose Contreras, but Jones hit his fourth homer of the year in the eighth and Grilli stayed perfect on save chances this season.
NOTES: LHP Francisco Liriano appears ready to make his Pirates debut on Saturday in New York against the Mets. Liriano has been on the disabled list all season while recovering from a broken right arm. He signed a two-year contract with the Pirates in the offseason ... The brief two-game set wraps up on Wednesday when Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (4-2, 1.60) faces Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (3-2, 2.57). The teams meet again in Seattle in June ... Pittsburgh C Russell Martin was scratched before the game with a neck issue and is day to day. Replacement Mike McKenry went 0 for 4.