PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Pirates have been battling through close games for most of the 2012 season. The largest margin they have lost by was in a 12-3 contest against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 2. There have been 19 one-run games this season, which is tied with Washington for the most in the Majors.
On Monday, the Pirates faced the New York Mets at PNC Park. Their first two runs came off lefty starter Johan Santana in the fourth inning. Trailing 4-0, Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez each connected for three straight doubles to bring the game within two runs.
The club proved their resiliency in the seventh by tying the game up at 4. With Clint Barmes on first, Michael McKenry took a 1-0 pitch from Santana into the bleachers in left field for a 2-run homer. It marked McKenry’s third long ball of the season.
“He’s tough,” McKenry said. “We’ve faced a lot of good pitching this year. Just try and take whatever you can from guys like that. Luckily he left a pitch up for me.”
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Neil Walker hit a fly out to center field, but the ball reflected off Mets Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ glove for a three base error. The Pirates were able to capitalize on the miscue and with one out, Clint Barmes hit a sac fly to right to score the go-ahead and eventual winning run.
“We hear it all the time that our pitching staff has been keeping us afloat,” McKenry said. “As a collective group as position players, we want to help out. We want to do whatever we can to help this team win. We’re going to scratch and claw and do whatever we can to put an extra run on the board.”
Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle believes battling through the first four months of the 2011 season when they were in the National League Central Division race, has helped the club with mental fatigue during the close contests.
“I think the beauty of the season we went through last year has really helped prepare them for this year,” Hurdle said. “A lot of lessons were learned last year. I do believe that’s one of things that they experienced last year that they had not experienced the previous two years. Competitive games, a lot of them, a large volume of them. I’ve also encouraged them that when the games over, the game’s truly over. You let the game go. You learn to shower well. You get everything off you. You head to your house. You do what you got to do. You really don’t pick it back up until you walk into the door tomorrow. That doesn’t happen overnight. It happens with experience. It happens with maturity. I think they are in a much better place for it.”
Bedard Struggles in Ninth Start of the Season
Left-hander Erik Bedard struggled in the second inning against New York on Monday at PNC Park. Bedard allowed the Mets to plate four runs in the second frame where nine batters came to the plate.
After retiring his first batter in the second, Bedard gave up a single into left field to Vinny Rottino. He scored the first run of the game after former Bucco Ronny Cedeno ripped a RBI double into the gap into right center field. After walking two of the next three batters he faced, Bedard allowed a two-out single into left field to plate two more runs in the frame. Third baseman David Wright, who is leading the Majors in batting average (.412), connected for the second straight hit to allow the final run to score.
Bedard followed the second up by tossing three scoreless frames. Overall, the lefty allowed four runs on six hits over five innings. He walked three and struck out four while throwing 97 pitches, 54 strikes.
“Just didn’t throw any strikes, and when I did, they hit it,” Bedard said. “You try to have good control every game. Just that one inning, I didn’t have it.”
Bullpen Steps Up
The Pirates bullpen has been impressive for the club so far this season. After Bedard was done after just five innings, the ‘pen combined to toss four scoreless frames to keep the Bucs in the game. Chris Resop, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Joel Hanrahan contributed and allowed just two hits while whiffing five.
“They’re all pitching very well,” Hurdle said. “Hughes has run a nice streak out together. Tony’s done a very good job in the situation he’s been given…Everybody has really contributed out there. And without having to really wear anyone out doing it. That was the nice thing.”
“[Juan] Cruz didn’t have to pitch tonight. Hughes has taken on some more leverage situations. And we still had Lincoln available out there. I’m very proud of the way they’ve all just came together without ego and taking the opportunities they’re presented with and pitching their backsides off.”
Looking for the Right Fit for Hernandez
Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday, where he hit .266 with five doubles, two home runs and 14 RBI over 38 games (124 at-bats). The 24-year-old has not yet made a start since joining the club. Hernandez did have a pinch-hit at-bat for pitcher Erik Bedard on Monday, where he struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch. Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said he’s looking for opportunities to get him into game action, but due to Josh Harrison’s hot bat hasn’t had the chance.
“He’s in the best place he’s been as far as swinging the bat at Triple-A, speed on bases, a defensive player,” Hurdle said. “We’re going to get him involved here when there is the right fit. Today would have been a good fit but Harrison is swinging the bat hot. I’ll be looking for an opportunity to get him in. Just to see where that swing is.”
“We wanted to bring somebody in that would give us an opportunity to free up Harrison. You talk about moving him up higher. Gorkys gives us the ability [to do that]. Whether it will be stealing a base late, running a base late, picking up for one of our catchers, swinging the bat off the bench or defending in the outfield.”
The Club’s True Identity
The Pirates are now seven weeks into the 2012 season sit at 20-22 after their first 42 games. The club is just three games out of first place in the National League Central (trailing the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds). And they are just two games below .500.
“I’m not here to tell you what the real Pirates are,” Hurdle said regarding the club’s true identity. “What I believe they are and what they’ve done don’t match up either. We’ve got to keep playing and we’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to keep finding ways to get better everyday. Our pitching has been the part of the engine that’s got us to where we are. Defensively we’ve had some great stretches. And there’s been some games where we’ve kicked the ball a little bit at times. But overall, our defense has been solid. Our pitching has been top shelf. We have work to do on offense.”
“We have a lot of men that are trying too hard….I’m just trying to encourage our guys to find a comfort zone at the plate. We’re up there trying to get a lot of things done. Everybody wants to be the guy. Consequently I still think there is too much anxiety going on. I still see too much athletic chaos going on at times. It’s not from a lack of want-to or a lack of effort. We’ve got to get a better focus on what we want to do better and handing how to do it.”