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Pirates Notebook: Correia Made Adjustment With Focus Toward More Strikeouts

Image Courtesy Pittsburgh Pirates

Kevin Correia isn’t a strikeout pitcher. In the first half of the 2012 season, Correia struck out a season-high four batters just three times on the season. But over his last two starts, Correia has combined for 11 strikeouts over 11.0 innings pitched — more than he had combined over his five starts prior.

After striking out five Florida Marlins over five frames in the Pirates 4-3 win at PNC Park on Friday, Correia said that he made a little adjustment this second half to get more swing and miss strikeouts.

“My strikeouts were really low the first half,” Correia said. “I think it was because I was trying to be efficient and get quick outs. It was working fine for me, but I’ve been pitching a lot of close games where I’m going to get pinch-hit for in certain situations. I just decided to pitch for strikeouts more often than I was in the first half. It’s just a different kind of style.”

“I’m not afraid to throw 90 pitches in six innings, because with our bullpen that’s all you need to do. Before I was in the mentality of trying to get deep in games with the low pitch count. That’s obviously going to cost you a lot of strikeouts. I just kind of made a little adjustment to try to get some swing or misses more often. You need that at certain points of the game and that’s an adjustment I’ve tried to make in the second half.”

Jose Reyes only needed to see two pitches from Correia to give the Marlins the lead in the first. Reyes took 1-0 slider left over the plate into the seats for a leadoff homer. The Marlins went on to tack a second run off the right-hander after Emilio Bonifacio followed with a single that dropped into left field.

The Marlins are known for their speed on the bases, leading the Majors with 88 stolen bases this season. And that’s one area that the Pirates  have really struggled with this year. Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry have combined to catch just eight of 62 base runners. That number got worse after Miami stole two bases in the first inning.

Bonifacio swiped second base on the bang-bang throw from Barajas to Neil Walker. Bonifacio then took third base and scored on a RBI ground out from Carlos Lee to give the Marlins a two run lead.

Correia gave up a leadoff single in each of his next two frames, but was able to leave the runners stranded. Correia was impressive in the third after a leadoff hit. The right-hander went on to strike out three of his next four batters, which was also the heart of the lineup, to end the scoreless frame.

Correia was already at the 70 pitch mark when he took the mound in the fourth inning, which allowed him only to go five frames due to several lengthy innings in the beginning of the game. Manager Clint Hurdle believes he can get more chase and rack up more strikeouts than he has this season, but it’s going to come down to being more efficient on the mound.

“I think it’s something that he’s seeing that’s there for him,” Hurdle said. “He’s got to be more efficient with his pitches to do it.”

Correia gave up a third run in the fourth inning. Back-to-back singles with one out put runners on the corners. Pitcher Ricky Nolasco laid down a sac bunt just up the first base line to push in the third run of the game. Overall, Correia threw 94 pitches over five innings and allowed three runs on eight hits.

“It was just a battle all night,” Correia said. “I’ve been getting down early, but I know it’s not over and I’ve been able to keep us in games.”

 

Pirates See Two 20 Home Run Sluggers For First Time in Four Years

With one swing of the bat on Friday night at PNC Park, Pedro Alvarez belted his 20th home run of the season in the fourth inning. Alvarez deposited a 1-2 curve low and away in to the seats in right center field marking the first time the Pittsburgh Pirates have had two players with 20 or more home runs in their lineup in 4 seasons. Andrew McCutchen leads the team with 22.

The last time the Pirates had two or more players with 20 or more long balls in a season was in 2008. Nate McLouth (26), Adam LaRoche (25) and Jason Bay (22) showed off their lumber for Pittsburgh. With both Alvarez and McCutchen on pace to hit at least 30 this season, they could do something that hasn’t been done in over 10 years. If they were to accomplish that feat, it would be the first time since 2001 — when Brian Giles (37) and Aramis Ramirez (34) both hit 30 homers.

 

Walker Continues Hot Month of July With a Homer

Neil Walker, too, showed off his power on Friday by taking a 2-2 pitch for a leadoff homer to right in the fifth inning. The long ball was Walker’s eighth of the season.

Walker is having a hot month of July, hitting .485 during a 17 game hitting streak, which came to an end on Wednesday. The second baseman picked up a pair of hits on Friday, pushing his season average to .301.

“Just really swinging at better pitches and being more quiet and more comfortable in the box,” Walker said on his hot month of July. “I was not very good with two strikes early on in the year. You get exposed in this league pretty quickly if you do that, when you’re swinging at pitches that aren’t in the strike zone or pitchers’ pitches. When you can lock it back in and hone it back in the strike zone and do what you’re capable of doing, having a better approach with two strikes, you’re going to be pretty successful in this league. I’ve been hitting some balls hard lately.”

“He’s been swinging the bat so well,” Hurdle said. “He’s just got a very professional approach to the game. It’s just blue collar. It’s what this city represents. He brings his lunch pail everyday…he can hit. I think it took him a while to find his way this season. Now, the balance at plate, the foundation is solid, he’s using the big part of the ballpark. It’s fun to watch.”

The Bucs have now homered in 10 straight and 21 of their last 23 games. They now have 103 on the season — just four shy of their 2011 total and only 92 games into the season. With the 4-3 win, the Pirates have won their fourth straight game in which they were trailing, and their 27th comeback win of the season.

“This is a really resilient group. Whether we’re down two runs, we feel confident we’re going to come back no matter who’s on the mound,” Walker said. “It’s one of those nights where that one run in the fifth inning proved to be the biggest one. And that’s a testament to our resilience, but also to our bullpen because we know if we get into the late innings, we’ve got a good shot if we’re ahead.”

 

Why Pitch to Andrew McCutchen?

It’s been a topic that has been raised a lot throughout the 2012 season. Why are teams continuing to pitch to Andrew McCutchen?

McCutchen is hitting .491 in the month of July, with seven long balls and 14 RBI over 13 games. He also leads the Majors with a .369 average and a .649 slugging percentage. And yet, club’s continue to give the All-Star pitches to hit.

But why?

“I have my own challenges here,” Hurdle said. “But  I wouldn’t want to have to pitch to Andrew McCutchen right now.”

What Hurdle did notice was while the club was in Colorado for a three game set, that they were pitching around him at the plate. The skipper is surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

“Why not?” Hurdle said. “That’s the point of it. Some people say it’s about ego. No, it’s about winning a game. You know how many chickens I hung at AT&T park when [Barry] Bonds came to the plate?”

“What do you want to do? We’ll pitch to him. Why? Well, because we do this we can get him out. Then all of a sudden it’s second row, third row, second deck. I mean he’s tearing stuff up. Structural damage to the bleachers.”

“I’m not afraid to put this up,” Hurdle said while holding up four fingers, the sign for an intentional walk. “Go four wide and move on because then it’s on me. If you don’t do that, you want to get him out but don’t give him anything good to hit, but don’t walk him. I’m just not a fan of that. Let’s either pass on him or pitch to him…It’s a lot easier, the sting of that feeling [free pass], than the guy you know you don’t want to beat you when you pitch to him and he beats you. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

 

Opposing Teams Pitching the Bucs Hot Offense Differently 

The Pirates bats have not cooled down since an impressive month of June, where they lead the Majors with 146 runs scored. So far in July, they’ve driven in 85 runs, which also leads the Majors during that span.

The offense isn’t just coming from Andrew McCutchen (.369 avg) and Neil Walker (.298 avg). The club has seen the offense click on all cylinders throughout the lineup. So much in fact, that the opposing teams have been pitching differently than they were over the first two months of the season.

“The better you hit, the more mistakes the other team makes because now they start talking about, ‘don’t make a mistake.’ We didn’t have many red spots offensively for two months,” Hurdle said. “We didn’t have a lot of those and now everybody starts hitting whether it’s contagious or not, all of sudden more mistakes are made for whatever reason.”

“I think they are trying to rearrange the mindset of us, taking away some things. But we’re not missing pitches that we had the ability to hit the first two months…We’re just competing so much more confidently in the box with the at-bats we’ve gotten from the top to the bottom. They have tried to pitch us a little different. Every once in a while that’s shown up. But when they’re making mistakes, we’re taking advantage.”

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