PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Josh Harrison broke camp with the Pirates out of spring training knowing that he was going to be limited to a bench role with the club. But the super utility man makes the most out of his opportunities when he is in the starting lineup. Harrison put up a 10 game hit streak –hitting .347 during that span — from mid-May until the end of the month. While swinging the hot bat, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle found ways to continue to plug him into the lineup.
“It’s something that I’m still learning,” Harrison said. “Every day I come in ready to play. If I’m not starting, I know I can be put in there to pinch run or double-switch, anything. Just trying to stay ready anyway I can and when I’m in there not try and do too much. Just try to help the team anyway I can whether it’s steal a bag, anything.”
Since that hit streak, Harrison had fizzled off, going just 2-for-23 over his last 13 games. On Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins in the 7-2 win, Harrison sparked the offense and went 3-for-4.
Despite not ever facing lefty Scott Diamond, Harrison, who got the start in right field on Tuesday, went deep on a 1-1 pitch with one out in the bottom of the 1st. It marked his second homer of the season.
“I knew I hit it pretty well,” Harrison said. “I thought it was kind of high. I didn’t know. As he jumped, I didn’t know if the ball was still in so I kept on running…It feels good. Anytime you can get on base in your first at bat, it gets you started on the right path.”
After striking out swinging in his second at-bat, Harrison roped a single into left field and quickly swiped second base. But the infielder didn’t just stop at second base. After Andrew McCutchen walked, both pulled off the double steal off former Bucco catcher Ryan Doumit. Harrison went on to score after Casey McGehee hit a sac fly to center field. McGehee has at least one RBI in each of his last 10 starts.
“We knew that was a big spot,” Harrison said. “It was a one run game at that time. We had a pretty good feel for that guy and tried to pick the right times to run. I felt that was the best time to go. Me and Cutch, he kind of knew I was going. It ended up being big for us because Casey was able to get a sac fly.”
“Shoot. Look at the numbers,” Manager Clint Hurdle said of McGehee’s hot bat of late. “His numbers jump out at you in June. We’ve been waiting for a number of guys to get clear between the ears…Just find a way to relax. Just get in the box and compete and get rid of the clutter or the noise. I got very basic with it in Cleveland. I said, ‘Everything that we’ve got going on underneath the helmets is what we need to talk about.’ It’s not about anybody’s swing. I think they’ve found their way to that — especially Casey. He’s really put up some good at-bats for us.”
Harrison came through once again in the seventh inning, connecting for a single before touching home plate for his third run of the game after McCutchen went deep off reliever Jeff Manship. The center fielder took a 3-2 pitch just fair of the foul pole in left field for a two-run shot. McCutchen’s 12th homer of the season tied Pedro Alvarez for the team lead.
Harrison wasn’t the only player who contributed to the offseason in the win on Tuesday — their third straight. Shortstop Clint Barmes went 3-for-4 with a RBI double and Pedro Alvarez continued his recent tear with a 2-for-3 day at the plate. The Pirates pounded out 12 hits off the Twins’ arms en route to the victory and are 16-2 on the season when they collect double-digit hits.
“He’s been able to make some progress,” Hurdle said of Alvarez. “It started in Baltimore and picked up traction in Cleveland and carried it through tonight. He seems to be finding his way up there. He’s ready to hit when he’s in the box…You saw a nice combination work out tonight with Barmes and Alvarez that I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t have bet on. It played out as well as you wanted it to. You’ve got to show confidence in your people.”
Correia Gets First Home Win in Nearly a Year
Kevin Correia took the mound at PNC Park on Tuesday afternoon looking for his first win at home since nearly a year ago — June 22, 2011 against Baltimore. Correia has gone 0-6 in his last nine starts in Pittsburgh and overall lost six of his last seven decisions until the Pirates were able to pound the Twins 7-2.
“I didn’t really notice,” Correia said of earning his first win at PNC Park this season. “I just feel like I’ve thrown a lot better than I did last year at home. I knew they’d come. We’re starting to hit.”
The right-hander scattered just three hits over his first four scoreless innings before running into a jam in the fifth.
“My slider was pretty good,” Correia said. “All my stuff was pretty decent so I was able to keep them off-balance.”
After getting a ground out to start the fifth inning, Correia wasn’t able to finish out the frame. A one-out walk, followed by a base hit made Hurdle call upon the bullpen to keep the shutout intact. Lefty Tony Watson, whose 31 inherited runners are second in the Majors, got the first batter to fly out to shallow center field. After issuing a walk, Watson got former Bucco Ryan Doumit to chase on an 0-2 pitch to end the inning.
“That’s huge right there,” Correia said. “I had my first walk and gave up a hit on not a very good pitch. To have him come in right there and pick me up was huge. We had a small lead at that point. For him to come in there and shut it down. It ensured my win.”
Overall Correia tossed 5.1 scoreless innings, scattering four hits and a walk with two strikeouts. After posting a 5.70 ERA over five starts in May, Correia has since put up a 4.09 ERA.
“I think we tend to forget that the first half of last season, he was pretty good,” Hurdle said. “He made an All-Star team. And he’s got some experience he’s able to draw upon from time to time. I think he added and subtracted to his pitching velocity better tonight then he has in a long time. He threw a cutter, he threw a slider. Then he threw some circle changes and some straight changes. I think he widened the gap of the velocity for them to cover. He just stayed in counts and kept making pitches.”
The Pirates starting staff continues to shine not only on the season, but at home. Their 2.40 ERA at PNC Park prior to game action ranks first in the Majors. They’ve held the opposition to two earned runs or less 20 times in the first 31 games played at PNC Park.
Bucs Trying to Keep Power Surge Going
During the six game road trip of Interleague play, the Pirates offense was out swinging big time in four of those six games. The Pirates put up six runs in each of their first and third games against Baltimore, then saw nine runs score off the Indians pitching staff in the each of the final two games in Cleveland.
But it wasn’t just hitting. The club pounded out nine home runs over those six games.
“It’s always good to feel it, to do it,” Hurdle said. “So now it’s fresh on their minds, they’re capable of it. They know the places they’ve gone either mentally or physically to get better and for us to drive balls and be more offensive minded. It wasn’t just Pedro [Alvarez].”
“For me, it still comes down to them finding a way to relax in the batters box. We’re going to get more out of what we think we’re capable of. Guys see the ball better. Your mind’s not as tight. I actually talked to the guys about loosening up their eyes, easy eyes at the plate, because from my experience, it was hard to see. I had so much going on. Just to let that all go. Just go up there and see the ball good, trust your swing, take a good aggressive swing at it. I really do believe good things will happen and believe we’re on the start of some good things happening here.”
The Pirates have belted out 21 long balls in the month of June, which trails just Milwaukee (25) and Cincinnati (24) for the most this month in the National League.
Who Will Start on Saturday?
General Manager Neal Huntington said prior to the game on Sunday that Brad Lincoln was going to remain in the rotation until Jeff Karstens returned from the disabled list. That was before Lincoln allowed four runs over just 3.1 innings in his third straight spot start of the season. Hurdle said before the game that they were having discussions on whether to give the nod to Lincoln, or bring up someone from Triple-A for a spot start. As of now, Lincoln is tentatively scheduled for Saturday against the Detroit Tigers.
“We’re having internal conversation on that as well as how we’re going to finish up the rotation through the weekend,” Hurdle said.
Part of Lincoln’s struggles while starting has been the damage he’s allowed with two outs. Three of the four runs he allowed on Sunday in Cleveland came with two outs. Lincoln said that he needed to focus more with two outs and would work on making adjustments.
“Obviously it’s a point for improvement,” Hurdle said. “It’s an area of improvement you need to make…It’s something we’ve talked about long and hard here all winter long and into spring training — to finish. Finish a play, finish a pitch, finish an inning. And in his case right now, it’s coming down to finishing pitches and finishing innings and that’s where he needs to put his focus. To get his next best foot forward to stop a lot of that incremental damage that’s happening. He’s not been far away. There’s always been opportunities to close out innings and the times he’s been nicked he hasn’t done it.”
Huntington mentioned lefties Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and right-hander Rick VandenHurk as being four arms they felt comfortable with stepping into the rotation if needed.
Karstens Makes Rehab Start With Double-A Altoona
Right-hander Jeff Karstens cruised during his first rehab since injuring his hip flexor during what would have been his final start before joining the rotation in Pittsburgh. Karstens allowed one run on six hits over seven frames. He walked one and struck out five while throwing just 78 pitches, 59 for strikes.
Karstens is expected to make one more rehab start in the minors before rejoining the Pirates. The goal will be to get to 100 pitches.
Right-handers Daniel McCutchen and Chris Leroux also made rehab starts tonight. McCutchen (left strained oblique) pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts for Triple-A. Leroux (right pectoral strain) allowed two hits over 0.2 innings with a walk.