PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates knew their pitching staff would be short-handed heading into Monday night's series opener against the Dodgers. But it would have been hard to imagine the night ending as it did, with starter Jameson Taillon throwing in the bullpen in case they rallied in the 12th inning.
That's what happened, however. With his options dwindling, manager Clint Hurdle called upon rookie Dovydas Neverauskas to pitch for the third straight day, and Neverauskas served up a go-ahead home run to Yasiel Puig in the Pirates' 6-5 loss in 12 innings.
"This is not an oversight by us, not bringing guys up, available arms," Hurdle said. "We just pitched 12 innings."
How did Neverauskas wind up on the mound and Taillon in the bullpen? Why did starter Gerrit Cole remain on the mound in the seventh inning long enough to give up a grand slam to Curtis Granderson? It all ties together.
Closer Felipe Rivero had thrown 30 pitches over the last two days, and he was declared unavailable after playing catch on Monday afternoon. Right-hander George Kontos could not pitch on Sunday night due to groin tightness. The Pirates expected he would be back in action after throwing in the afternoon, but they wound up two men short from the start.
It seemed like it might not matter as Cole held the Dodgers for six innings. Then, Corey Seager put the Dodgers on the board with an RBI single in the seventh, and Justin Turner singled to load the bases for Granderson.
At that point, Hurdle had a choice. He could stick with Cole or turn to one of three right-handers: A.J. Schugel, Daniel Hudson or Joaquin Benoit. Hurdle stuck with Cole, even as his pitch count climbed over 100, and let him face Granderson for the fourth time.
"He's our ace. I still felt he was the best equipped to get out of that situation," Hurdle said. "I have all the confidence in the world in Gerrit. He gave it everything he had. We got a wrong result there, and that's on me."
Cole took the blame on himself, saying he "hung a bad slider" to Granderson when he should have challenged the veteran. The first grand slam allowed by Cole in the Majors gave the Dodgers a 5-3 lead. Schugel came in to finish the inning, and Hudson tossed a scoreless eighth.
The Pirates tied it in the eighth, and Nicasio pitched a perfect ninth. From there, it fell into Benoit's hands. He worked around four walks and 38 pitches to toss two scoreless innings -- his first two-inning appearance since June 20, 2016.
With Benoit spent and the bench emptied, the Pirates turned to Neverauskas, who had never previously worked three days in a row in his professional career, in the 12th.
Puig promptly crushed Neverauskas' second pitch for the go-ahead homer. As starter Chad Kuhl pinch-hit for Neverauskas, Taillon continued throwing lightly in the bullpen, in case the Pirates rallied again.
Taillon said he is ready to start on Tuesday night. But the Pirates may need to call up someone from Triple-A Indianapolis to aid their weary 'pen, whether it's a reliever (likely Edgar Santana or Johnny Barbato) or scheduled starter Tyler Glasnow.
"That was the second-to-last thing I wanted to try to put into play," Hurdle said of using Neverauskas. "The next one would have been the guy you saw warming up in the 12th inning."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.