Pirates Notebook: Options to Spark Offense Could Be Internal

Photo by Mark Olson

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Pirates entered game action on Wednesday just three games under .500 and four games back in the National League Central Division. What’s kept the club afloat this season has been off the mound. The pitching continues to be solid from the starters to the relievers. However, the bats have been a different story.

The Pirates .218 team average is ranked last in the National League. They’re also ranked last in runs (125), hits (302) and OBP (.268). The league average for hitting is at .249 — a 31 point difference.

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle is aware of the offensive woes this season. Options to help spark the bats could be internal.

“We’ve always kept an eye open to get better everyday,” Hurdle said. “Whether it be internally or externally. We never don’t look outside. We like to think we’ve given some guys here time to right some things. You want to give guys some experience and the back of their cards that say they’ve done some good things, an opportunity to bundle some at-bats and get some rhythm at the plate. But at this point in time, we also know where our strengths are. They’re off the mound. Defensively we’re playing a lot of one-run games. We’re definitely looking to generate some more offense, so we’ll be open-minded about when and if or where we can get it.”

The Pirates combined for just one run on five hits against the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon in the club’s 3-1 loss. So how long should the organization wait before the make a move and shake things up?

“You want to give them the freedom to play,” Hurdle said. “I don’t think anyone wants to work in an environment where you’re continually looking over your shoulder or up above you. But at the same time, you need to be professional about your business. And making sure you’re doing everything you can do to prepare. Then you’ve got to go out and compete.”

“At the end of the day, at this level, the end mark is a big mark. The individual reasonability that comes with taking care of your own thing, you’ve got to be aware of that. Our guys are aware of that. I would never give you guys a date. For all you guys know, we’ve been looking for two weeks. What you want to say, what you do, you’re always trying to be positive and coach guys up. We want to give them some time to right some things, but we’ve got to be open-minded.”

Six players are on the active roster are currently hitting below the Mendoza line, with a few others close to that mark. 50 games and 150 at-bats is usually a tell-tale sign on what a player is capable of doing to start the season.

“We’re at game 44, so that’s closing in on 50,” Hurdle said. “Some of the at-bats have already gone over 150 and some of them are creeping up on it. This is the point of the season, at least for me I’ve always tried to at least show some patience before you start putting a fine tooth comb on it or a very acute focus. What you want to do versus what you’re capable of doing can also be either connected or disconnected.”


Streak vs. Lefties at Home Snapped

The Pirates entered today’s action 6-0 against a lefty on the mound at PNC Park this season. New York sent out left-hander Jonathan Niese to the bump on Wednesday afternoon. Hurdle altered the lineup with the southpaw getting the nod, inserting more right-handed bats into the starting nine.

Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata all got the day off –all three have combined to go just 4-for-33 over their last three games. Hurdle wanted to give the lineup a spark. However, the bats still stayed cold.

“He was very effective,” Hurdle said. “Kept the ball down. Bought some territory inside from time to time. He mixed all his pitches. We weren’t able to put good swings on it. That was pretty obvious.”

The lone run the Pirates were able to score off Niese came in the sixth inning. The Bucs had just two hits off the southpaw before Josh Harrison led off the inning with a double. He scored on a RBI knock by Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen has 13 hits in his last 20 at-bats against lefties.

“It’s something that as professionals, we have to learn to do,” Harrison said of the club trying not to press with lack of offense. “We all know that there’s been ups and downs. The moment you put more pressure on yourself, you won’t perform. You have to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax.”

“It’s always going to be frustrating because when you get put into those situations you want to come up with the hit. It’s part of baseball. You’re not going to get the hit every time. We know more often than not, we’re going to get the job done. Sometimes you just have to take that in stride and worry about it next time.”


Morton Taking Positive Strides Forward

Right-hander Charlie Morton made his seventh start of the season on Wednesday. After allowing four runs his last trip to the mound in Detroit, Morton took some positive strides forward.

Morton allowed three runs on eight hits over seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out just one while throwing 97 pitches, 66 strikes.

One run scored with one out in the first inning. Kirk Nieuwenhuis connected for a single into left field. The center fielder advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored after Lucas Duda knocked a RBI single to right field.

After pitching two scoreless frames, Morton ran into trouble in the fifth. A single by Rob Johnson started the inning. With one out, Morton gave up a second hit to put runners on the corners. Nieuwenhuis hit a sac fly to plate the first run of the frame. David Wright followed by hitting a RBI double off the wall in right field to score the second.

Morton followed the two run frame up by retiring his next seven straight batters to end his outing.

Hurdle said prior to the game that he wanted to see Morton more aggressive on the mound.

“Get the ball and go,” Hurdle said. “I want to see him establish some rhythm. That’s the biggest thing. I think there’s been a tentative nature about him we didn’t see that much of last year that we need to kick to the curb and eliminate.”

Morton was able to do just that.

“I thought he had a nice sequence in the sixth and seventh,” Hurdle said. “The third and fourth also. The tempo and rhythm was what we were looking for. And not that there was huge indecision any other time. We wanted him to get on that rubber, stand up and go. I thought he pitched with his sinker better, especially on his arm side. He had some splits involved. The mix of pitches wasn’t bad. Three pitches were up today. They got hit that cost him runs. But I thought there were some positive strides…I thought there was some building blocks put into play today.”


Hernandez Gets First Major League Start

Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez made his first Major League start on Wednesday against the New York Mets at PNC Park. Since being recalled on Friday, Hernandez has only had one at-bat prior to game action. The rookie struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch on Monday in the seventh inning.

“You’re never going to try and pick the perfect spot,” Hurdle said. “I wanted to get him out here sooner than later. Tried to give a couple guys a day down today and a day down tomorrow to try and spark something. Tabby and Alvarez are down today. Maybe the combination of today down, tomorrow down, can help get their legs back under them a little bit.”

“I don’t think you’re ever going to ease those nerves by trying to have a conversation. Whatever you say now is going to be forgotten at 12:35 and he’s going to go and play. We’ve been having conversations with guys of Gorkys stature, as far as rookies from the beginning. You fear nothing, you respect everything. You embrace the game. You do what’s asked of you to do from an offensive standpoint. You show up with your pre-pitched preparation, every pitch you’re ready to go and play. Don’t work, play.”

Hernandez went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk in his first Major League start.


Can Harrison be an Everyday Player?

Utility man Josh Harrison picked up a hit on Wednesday, a double and scored the lone run for the club in the loss. Harrison currently has a nine-game hitting streak and has played in eight straight games. Harrison broke camp with the club as a bench player, but is he able to push himself into an every day role with the club?

“I would never tell a guy that he’s a utility guy that’s just hot,” Hurdle said. “That’s for a lot of people that don’t give the game a real good look. We try and put people in compartments right away. I just like what I’m seeing. I like the approach. I like the way he goes about his business. I like the way he battles in the batter’s box. We’re looking for guys who are competing in the box. He’s definitely doing that. And we’ve got to find ways to keep him plugged in the offense. Time will tell where he can take it. But I’m very open-minded.”


Barmes Picking Up at the Plate

After going 0-for-3 on Tuesday night, Barmes has five hits in his last 11 at-bats. The shortstop connected for two off the Mets Jonathan Niese on Wednesday.

“Sometimes little things, spark big things,” Hurdle said. “Just a little grass finding here or there can help a hitter’s confidence. Nothing really helps an athlete’s confidence more than a little success. Another two hit game today. Hopefully that will bode well for him moving forward.”