Series preview: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates went 22 innings without a run until finally pushing one across in the ninth inning of their 4-1 loss to Milwaukee on Thursday night at PNC Park.
That's hardly the offense the team showed early on, and it's well shy of internal expectations for significant improvement this season.
John Russell, the previous manager, used to point to hollow rallies such as the one the Pirates mounted in the ninth, as moral victories, a sign that the team "continued to battle." But Clint Hurdle, the new man, did not mince words after watching another four-hit, 14-strikeout dud that dropped the Pirates' batting average to .223 and raised their strikeout total to 105, tops in the major leagues.
"Our at-bats have got to improve," Hurdle said. "The number of strikeouts continues to be alarming. Hitting is contagious, and we've got to get some people hot. So far, we haven't been able to connect the dots between the top and bottom of our lineup."
Where the coaching staff had been stressing selectivity, the hitters currently are pretty much flailing away.
"I believe we're trying to hit all the pitches now," Hurdle said. "We need to hit our pitches, get back to our own strike zone."
Among those struggling the most is promising third baseman Pedro Alvarez, now at .196 with one extra-base hit after striking out in his only appearance Thursday.
"We've all got to get going, do what we know we can do," Alvarez said afterward. "It's a matter of staying within ourselves, working from our strengths."
--3B Steve Pearce finally made his first start of the season Thursday, taking the place of struggling Pedro Alvarez, and that was only one of several lineup changes by manager Clint Hurdle. RF Matt Diaz was inserted at cleanup, and 1B Lyle Overbay was dropped to sixth in the batting order. Some of that was due to facing Milwaukee LHP Randy Wolf, but Hurdle also made clear he wants more offense from Alvarez. "He's just getting the night off," Hurdle said. "It's a teaching day." Alvarez struck out as an eighth-inning pinch hitter.
--C Chris Snyder, freshly recalled off the 15-day disabled list, was immediately inserted in the lineup Thursday, and he will be the team's regular catcher. He been inactive since mid-March because of a strained lower back. "It feels great to be back," said Snyder, who went 0-for-2 with a walk. "The back feels solid. I worked on it, got everything I needed, and hopefully it stays strong." C Ryan Doumit heads to the bench with Snyder's return.
--LF Jose Tabata's 10-game hitting streak ended Wednesday night with Tabata walking in his final at-bat and the Pirates down by six runs. That impressed manager Clint Hurdle, who felt moved to discuss it with reporters without a question being asked. "I'm proud of him," Hurdle said. "That tells you a lot about a player, to think about things team-first. Jose just wanted to get on base."
--Tabata batted .274 out of the leadoff spot last season, but that was only in emergency duty, seldom sustained. This season, he is off to one of the best starts in baseball -- .342 average, seven walks, five steals -- and manager Clint Hurdle merits some of the credit for having placed Tabata atop the order. "I just went with a gut feeling, wanted to see how he would do," Hurdle said. "He's been great."
--LHP Joe Beimel, rehabilitating a sore elbow with Class AAA Indianapolis, is expected to join the Pirates on Friday night in Cincinnati. When he arrives, LHP Garrett Olson probably will be odd man out.
--LHP Paul Maholm, Thursday's starter, has become friends with Penguins LW Mike Rupp across town, and the two regularly text each other good-luck wishes or congratulations. They also participated jointly in Rupp's charity fundraiser Monday for a local family in need. Maholm, an avid golfer, said he appreciates hockey more than ever. "It's a blast to watch, and I just have so much respect for them as athletes," Maholm said.
BY THE NUMBERS:
13 -- First-inning runs allowed by the Pirates starters through 12 games, including two by LHP Paul Maholm on Thursday.
48 -- Ryan Doumit's career home runs as a catcher, tied for fourth in franchise history with Smoky Burgess and Manny Sanguillen. Top of the list is Jason Kendall, with 66.
153 -- Starts by Thursday's starter, Paul Maholm, since the start of the 2006 season, more than any National League left-hander in that span.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe we're trying to hit all the pitches now. We need to hit our pitches." -- Manager Clint Hurdle, on the Pirates' struggling offense.
--LHP Joe Beimel (sore left elbow) was scratched from his March 19 appearance, the second time this spring he had elbow trouble. He threw a perfect inning at high Class A Bradenton on April 8. He was moved to Class AAA Indianapolis on April 11, and he might be added to the big-league roster April 15. Beimel is not on the disabled list, as he was in camp as a non-roster player this spring.
--RHP Ross Ohlendorf (strained right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list April 9.
--RHP Jose Ascanio (right elbow tightness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. The timetable for his return was unknown.
--LHP Scott Olsen (left hamstring strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. The injury wasn't considered serious.
--RHP Brad Lincoln (bruised right forearm) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis on April 10.
--RHP Kevin Hart (right shoulder surgery in May 2010) went on the 60-day disabled list March 18. He should be able to return by midseason.