When Jeff Karstens takes the mound, Michael McKenry is usually the guy behind the plate. It’s been that way for the past two seasons more often than not, but the two work well and have fun together.
“It’s a lot of fun because there’s a lot of trickery involved, different aspects of the game that you can fiddle with and play with,” McKenry said. “He’s a lot of fun to catch. It’s like playing wiffle ball every fifth day. Whether I’m catching him or not, it’s fun to watch. It’s a blast.”
There’s a comfort level, too. Karstens said that prior to his outing, they both come prepared with their reports and they go over their game plans. They discuss their plan of action, and pitching coach Ray Searage the last couple times hasn’t even been in there.
“There’s definitely a comfort level on both sides,” McKenry said. “You see the same person behind the plate, same thoughts, same meetings, all that, it always makes [things] more confident.”
“I wish I played chess, I may be pretty good,” Karstens said. “It’s just one of those things where the game plan changes from time to time. Working with Mac, he’s been my catcher for a couple years now…We have a game a game plan and we have a really good idea of what we want.”
What they got on Saturday was a seven-plus scoreless outing against Milwaukee. And if Karstens’ didn’t tweak his groin, the right-hander could have had a shot eight, if not the distance.
Karstens’ isn’t a flashy pitcher. He won’t blow the hitters away with his fastball, but what he does is changes speeds and paint the corners, and was impressive to watch at PNC Park. After tinkering with his curve after a four-run outing against Los Angeles, Karstens’ curveball was sharp tonight.
“Just trying not to over throw it,” Karstens said. “I think when I try to over throw it, it ends up in the other batters box. When I just let everything and the extension work for itself, I get it to where I want it to be. It’s one of those things where the last few starts, it’s been there.”
The right-hander faced the minimum through four innings. A double play in the second erased the only hit he allowed and needed just 38 pitches through the first four scoreless. He allowed his second hit, a leadoff double down the left field line in the fifth, but the right-hander painted the corners and struck out his next two batters — including Martin Maldonado looking on a curve.
After getting a fly out in the sixth, Karstens allowed back-to-back singles in the inning. But like the innings before, he was able to leave both runners stranded after a punchout and a pop out into shallow right.
Karstens worked himself into a jam in the eighth, but an injury forced him to exit early. Back-to-back singles up the left side started the inning. Karstens felt the discomfort during a pitch to Norichika Aoki, and after being checked out by the training staff, Manager Clint Hurdle pulled Karstens and called upon left-hander Tony Watson to get out of the jam.
“The guys did a really good job of picking me up and getting me out of that situation,” Karstens said.
Overall, Karstens held the Brewers to just seven hits over seven-plus scoreless with no walks and four strikeouts. Karstens has pitched at seven innings in three straight starts.
“You saw two guys out there tonight that were just pitching,” Hurdle said. “Changing speeds, location and command are the best weapons. You don’t need the radar gun because they can get outs efficiently. Jeff tonight gave the start that we did need exactly. The command of all his pitches tonight, especially his two breaking pitches, he threw some very good splits and changeups as well, just letting off the gas all night. Very efficient. He stayed a real good place in the game. Good tempo, worked quick, low pitch count, all the things you’re looking for.”
“I think the biggest thing is we have fun out there,” Karstens said. “Things happen, and I’m still smiling. Guys take big swings on my curveball, and I love it. It’s just part of the game. Like Ray says, this is a game for big leaguers, and I’m a little kid. Just having fun.”
Tabata in Better Frame of Mind
Jose Tabata was recalled on Sunday from Triple-A, but has played more focused since the club demoted him in early July. Tabata has run out balls in the field, not letting up like he did before getting sent down. And he’s hit the ball much better, too. The outfielder has gone 8-for-27 (.296) over six games.
“I see some better things, but it is a small sample size,” Hurdle said. “I know he’s anxious to go out and play. [He’s at] a better level than when he left. Time will tell. But he’s in the best frame of mind. I think he’s moving around better than we have seen previously.”
Tabata said at first when he was demoted he was frustrated, but while with Triple-A, it allowed him to get more focused and get back to the kind of ball that he used to play. Tabata hit .297 over those 41 games, connecting for nine doubles and five stolen bases.
“Worked on everything,” Tabata said. “I worked on my swing. I worked on my defense. Just being more aggressive. I feel more relaxed here, just more comfortable. I was a little bit frustrated because that situation was hard. I wanted to be up here. But I feel better mentally.”
“I feel better. More focused. I’m thankful for the opportunity again, I don’t want to remember the past. I’m here today. I’m here to play hard everyday and everyday I’m in the lineup, I’m going to play hard for the Pirates.”
Marte Plays Catch, Takes Step Forward
Starling Marte continues to take steps forward after suffering an oblique strain on Saturday. The rookie outfielder played catch yesterday and felt better today.
“It’s not going to be like all of a sudden he’s up running the bases,” Hurdle said. “I think it will be incrementally, step by step. He played catch. He started moving around a little bit more. Really working on his strength, his stretching. There was a step taken yesterday, then he went out and played catch.”
Takahashi Arriving in Pittsburgh Tonight
Reliever Hisanori Takahashi, who the Pirates claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, is expected to report to Pittsburgh tonight. The left-handed reliever had not yet arrived prior to the game, will sit down with Manager Clint Hurdle later this evening, Hurdle said, to get their hands on him.
Takahashi posted a 4.93 ERA with Los Angeles over 43 appearances. The Pirates will have to make a 25-man roster move, which will likely come on Sunday morning.
Dog Days of August Presenting Challenges
The month of August isn’t called “The Dog Days of August” for nothing. The Pirates are finding that to be hard and true this season. The club entered game action on Saturday with just an 8-14 record so far this month.
Hurdle believes that the month presents challenges that can take younger players longer to adjust to.
“I think it does take a couple years for you to understand what time of year it is,” Hurdle said. “It takes guys a couple years to go through it, to understand what it’s about. The first year, most guys they get up here, they’re done. You’re closing down. You got a week to go in your season, you might have some playoffs. Now, it’s really on.”
“The season is on. It’s on because of its length. It’s on because of the volume of play. It’s on because of the potential of where you are in the standings, playoff spot. It’s on. That part of it I think is the beauty of it. You get to this point where this is the part of the season that actually turns young men into grown men, and it turns vets into seasoned vets. It has significant meaning. For some of these guys, this whole month is a new ballgame for some of them.”