The Pirates have struggled on both sides of the game over their recent rough stretch. But Pittsburgh showed a gritty performance on Thursday to snap their three game skid against Los Angeles. It wasn’t a pretty performance, but it was a needed win for the club.
Two big swings of the bat from Garrett Jones plated a career-high six RBI as he continues to have an impressive month of August, following solid months in June and July. Consistency has been a struggle for the 30-year-old since his rookie year with Pittsburgh in 2009, but some new approaches to the plate this season have allowed him to find success.
“I’m just trying to get a pitch to hit,” Jones said. “Not miss it, be aggressive. I’m just feeling loose and relaxed. It’s a combination of things. Just keeping my mind free, seeing the ball and hitting it. That’s helping me stay consistent and stay successful.”
Another reason, Manager Clint Hurdle said, is due to being more mentally tough this year as well.
“I think that’s been one of the areas that he’s tried to work through in his career,” Hurdle said. “Control what he can control. Focus during the game. Not let circumstances twist him one way or another. Just to battle through it when he doesn’t get the result that maybe he wanted. Just push that aside. Make a quick honest evaluation and move on. I think that’s one of the areas that he’s definitely shown some progress for us and he’s felt as well.”
Jones pushed his season average to .283 after picking up a 2-for-3 day at the plate driving in six runs and drawing a walk. The lefty launched two long balls on the day — both of them three-run shots.
Jones took a 3-2 change from the Dodgers Joe Blanton in the bottom of the first and deposited it into the seats in right. His second came in the fifth, when he connected for a second three-run blast for his 19th long ball of the season. Jones is just two shy of his career-high 21 that he hit in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. It also marked the fifth time of his career that he had a two-homer game.
The Dodgers chose to pitch around Andrew McCutchen, who drew three walks on the day, and Jones capitalized on it.
“I think they were just pitching him a little careful, and ended up walking him a couple times,” Jones said. “I got the benefit from that. I got some pitches over the plate and was able to get the good part of the bat on it.
“We needed to get back on track, get a win today,” Jones said after the Pirates won 10-6. “We hit a rut a little bit. That’s the good thing about baseball, you can turn it around the next day.”
“We were connected from top to bottom today,” Hurdle said. “The big guy in the middle — Jones. That’s a couple exclamation points on the offensive side of the ball today. He’s really just stayed pressing forward. The numbers are adding up. He’s become the one guy that can cover for Andrew, behind him on a regular basis…We pitched better than them today, but our offense won the game today.”
Burnett Gives Gritty Performance
A.J. Burnett didn’t have his best stuff on Thursday, and had to battle to notch his 15th win of the season, which made him the first Pittsburgh starter to notch that many wins in a season since Todd Ritchie went 15-9.
“The more I win, the closer we get,” Burnett said. “It’s about us in here. It’s not about me, it’s not about career numbers. It’s about trying to come in here and win today. It wasn’t pretty. They’re not all going to be pretty. We battled today. That’s more important than anything.”
He gave up two long balls on the day, the second of which caused a bit of a stir.
After retiring his first two batters in the second inning, James Loney took the first pitch from Burnett and launched it to right field for a solo-home run.
Burnett retired four straight before allowing a ground rule double to Matt Ellis to start the fourth frame. The next batter hit an infield single to Pedro Alvarez, who sailed the ball past the first base bag and into foul territory for the error allowing the run to score. Two more runs scored after Burnett issued his second long ball of the game, this time to Hanley Ramirez on the first pitch to the right center field seats.
But while rounding second base, Ramirez flashed a hand symbol, where he wraps his pointer finger and thumb into a circle around both eyes to Burnett on the mound, which caused him to get caught up in the moment. The next time that Ramirez came to the plate, Burnett struck him out and yelled at Ramirez to sit down.
“I thought he did something when he crossed second base,” Burnett said. “If you’re going to hit a homer, act like you’ve hit one before. First baseman Loney hit one and was very professional about it. Ran hard the whole way. I just thought he did something at second base, it was the heat of the moment. I was just excited to get him out. Anytime somebody clicks one off you, you want to get them out the next time up. He drove one, and I was able to get him out so I was fired up.”
The right-hander went on to retire seven straight, which included four strikeouts, until running into another jam in the seventh. Burnett gave up leadoff single to Loney to start the frame. He retired his next batter, then another base hit connected off the right-hander. Burnett plunked Shane Victorino with two outs, and his next batter hit an infield single off Burnett’s foot and was safe on the head first slide to first base. Burnett continued to be wild and hit pinch hitter Juan Rivera to plate the second run. Hurdle yanked Burnett and called upon Tony Watson to face Andre Either, who grounded out to end the inning.
“I think he came out what is at hand here, and to put a foot down, we’re not playing well,” Hurdle said. “And then the game probably sharpened his edge because the game was all over the place. To have a lead, then to get up sided with that lead. To have to battle like he did, even in the seventh inning to face Ellis. He makes the pitch he needs to make to get the out, and his size 14 ½ deflects the ball, and now, you’ve got a little bit more of a hornet’s nest. It may not be 14 ½, I don’t know. I made that up. And then a little bit more of a hornet’s nest, two guys got hit in the inning. He was laying it all out there. It was gritty. It was gritty all over the place today for us and for them, they kept coming back.”
“It was a grind today,” Burnett said. “It shows you the fight in this clubhouse. I gave up a few here and there, and these guys kept battling. One game at a time, that’s all that matters. One game at a time.”
Experience from Short Trip Valuable for Locke
Jeff Locke only made two appearances in long relief during his trip to the Majors the second time this season. In those two outings, Locke tossed 4.1 innings allowing just one hit, no runs or walks and struck out a batter. The Pirates optioned the southpaw back to Triple-A on Thursday and will slide back into the starting rotation at Indianapolis.
The experience, however, was valuable for the 24-year-old, who was also a September call up last season.
“Just getting the chance to learn from some of the guys that do it everyday,” Locke said. “A.J. obviously has been great. He’s helping me with just the little things about being a starter. The other day when he started, I just kind of watched him. Just watched anything he did from the time he got here to the time he got to the field. Every starter is kind of different in that sense, everyone does their own thing. I just wanted to see what he does, to see what works for him. I was impressed. He kept to himself, went about his business. Just trying to take something from all the guys here.”
While Locke was here, the left-hander’s locker was between Burnett and James McDonald. During spring training, Locke spent time with Burnett as well as both trips to the Majors. Locke has a combined 21.0 innings pitched in the Majors, and will likely return before the season ends to get more experience.
“Having A.J coming to the organization since spring training has been phenomenal,” Locke said. “What he’s been able to do with some of the younger guys…Just the presence everyday. He speaks to everybody. He’s just a professional on and off the field. He’s someone that you want to surround yourself around. You want to be around guys like that. You can see what he’s been able to do with some of the guys this year…Just the electricity in here is different. I feel like all these guys collectively working together has a lot to do with his arrival this year.”
“Since the day I met him, he’s been fantastic. He’s never not answered a question I’ve asked, never not taken the time to say hi. It doesn’t matter who you are. He treats you with the most respect. He’s definitely a guy that I’ll never forget having the chance being around.”
Navarro Needs to Take Advantage of Opportunity
Yamaico Navarro was promoted from Triple-A on Thursday when the club made a series of roster moves. With Neil Walker currently sidelined with a dislocated right pinky, Navarro was given the opportunity to join the club as a utility player for the second time this season.
Navarro broke camp with the club following Spring Training, after Pittsburgh traded for him over the offseason. He struggled in the limited playing time in the bigs, posting just a .178 average, but was able to produce a better average in Triple-A (.275).
“He’s been swinging the bat better,” Hurdle said. “He’s played multiple positions, so we felt compelled to give this opportunity to him. The versatility helps, and we believe the bat will help, getting the opportunity to play will help as well.”
“There was some inconsistency with the playing time. I think that he got at-bats that I was hoping he would get, or the at-bats that I thought would be there for him. It just didn’t take place. We felt that he’s still of age that we need him playing to get better. That was the reason for his initial sent down.”
While in Triple-A, Navarro faced some challenges, which included a DUI for drinking and driving. Hurdle said that Navarro has a good opportunity right now and needs to take advantage of it.
“He’s gone through some challenges down there,” Hurdle said. “They’ve been addressed. He understands what’s at stake for him personally and professionally with this call up. And the importance of this opportunity at this point in time in his career in this organization.”