The Pittsburgh Pirates offense has exploded in the month of June. In the club’s 14-5 pounding over the third-place St. Louis Cardinals, they connected for a season-high 19 hits. The 14 runs driven in pushed the Pirates total in June to 139 — the most runs scored this month by any team in the Majors.
It was just last month that the club was struggling on offense. While the starting pitching and bullpen continued to keep the club in games, the offense never seemed to click. But things changed in a hurry since June 1.
The Pirates offense plated just 147 runs combined during the months of April and May. Aside from scoring 139 so far this month, the Pirates are also are ranked third in the NL in home runs (34), seventh with a team .262 average, and fourth in OPS (.765).
“We’re getting better,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn’t think we were as bad as we were when we were bad. This game will keep you humble. Are we going to throw  runs and 19 hits out there [every game]? No. But we have the capability to do it. The guys connected the dots tonight…It’s just one game, but I do like the way our offense is throwing punches back in the month of June.”
In a big series facing third place St. Louis, who with the loss trail the Pirates by 1-1/2 games in the Central, the Pirates offense broke out the lumber against Adam Wainwright on the mound.
A trend for the club recently has been first inning runs for Pittsburgh. The Pirates have scored in the first inning of 15 of their last 17 games and drove in a pair on Friday.
Jose Tabata hit a one-out single up the right side and Andrew McCutchen followed by lining a double over the head of left fielder Matt Holliday. After Garrett Jones lined a hard hit ball into the glove of the Cardinals first baseman, Neil Walker drove in two with a two-out single to right field.
The Pirates rallied off Wainwright in the fifth after the right-hander held the Bucs to just three hits over his preceding three innings. The club came through big with two-out hits. Infield singles from McCutchen and Jones put runners on the corners for Walker. The second baseman worked the count full, and drew a walk to load the bases. Pedro Alvarez made Wainwright pay by roping a bases clearing double down the right field line to tie the game at 5.
“For me, that swing, kind of almost took the crowd out of it…That was a big swing for us off Pedro’s bat. Big swing of the bat,” Hurdle said.
“Even when we were down today and we scored four runs in that one inning, we knew it was only a matter of time before we got that big hit, got some runs going,” McCutchen said, who had a four-hit night. “Pedro got a big hit and tied it up. We didn’t stop right there. Everybody is contributing, it’s not just one or two guys.”
Home runs came for the Pirates in the sixth inning. Clint Barmes went deep for his fourth of the season. It was his first long ball since June 3. Alex Presley followed with a pinch-hit homer, his sixth long ball of the season. It marked Presley’s first career-pinch hit home run and the first by a Bucco this season. The Pirates have hit back-to-back home runs for two straight games. Casey McGehee and Alvarez accomplished that feat on Thursday.
But the lumber didn’t stop there. Garrett Jones connected for a line-drive two-run homer to left for the third long ball of the inning. It was the first time since July 22, 2009 that Pittsburgh hit three homers in a single inning. The Pirates have homered in seven straight games. That’s the first time that has happened since August 31-September 7, 2010.
The Pirates tacked on more runs in the final two innings of the game. Casey McGehee drove in a pinch-hit single with the bases loaded in the eighth inning to score Brad Lincoln, who also picked up a single. Alvarez drew a walk to drive in his fourth run of the game.
Andrew McCutchen connected for the fourth dinger of the game for the Pirates — a three-run shot in the ninth inning. It was his team-leading 15th homer of the season in the ninth inning. He became the first Pirates outfielder since Andy Van Slyke in 1987 to hit 15 home runs before the All-Star break.
“I just go up there and hit,” McCutchen said. “Feeling good is all. Just feeling good and seeing the ball well.”
McGehee Continues Hot Month of June
Casey McGehee struggled at the plate in May after seeing a .269 average in the month of April. McGehee said he’s much more relaxed at the plate this month and is really trying not to do too much. The approach has been good for a .293/.365/.547 line in June, heading in to tonight’s game.
McGehee didn’t start on Friday, but pinch-hit in the eighth inning and remained in the game as a defensive replacement. The first baseman went 1-for-2 driving in a run with the bases loaded in his first at-bat.
“He has had a big month,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s good to see because he started off clean and really had some traction early. I think like a lot of guys will do, he came over here and let me take it to another gear, and I’ll be playing everyday. Before you know it, he went from pretty good to the at-bats were just not happening for him. He got pull conscious and got out of sort. He’s worked hard to find his way back. He’s definitely one of the guys that’s really provided us some offense [this month]. He’s hit the ball to all parts of the ballpark. It’s been nice to see.”
“I think just relaxing and really trying to stick to my approach of not trying to do quite as much as I was trying earlier in the year. It’s starting to feel better. Slowing everything down a little bit.”
A Healthy Barajas Back in the Lineup
Rod Barajas was back in the Pirates lineup on Friday night after missing the past three games due to a bone bruise. Michael McKenry caught the club during that time.
Eric Fryer still remains with the Pirates. He was called up from Triple-A as an emergency catcher, but did not see any game action. If Barajas feels no side effects tomorrow from catching tonight, the club will likely send Fryer back to Triple-A.
Who would take his spot is undetermined. Infielder Matt Hague was demoted for his roster spot, but would not be eligible to return to the big league club until his 10 days are up.