Pirates Notebook: Karstens Tinkering with Curve; McDonald Gets Bumped in Rotation
Jeff Karstens has been working on some adjustments over his last several starts. Since returning from the disabled list due to a shoulder injury, which caused him to miss over two months, Karstens has posted a 3.79 ERA after his four earned run outing on Monday against Los Angeles.
“I don’t think I’ve pitched terribly, but I also don’t think I’ve pitched well enough to win,” Karstens said. “There’s a fine line there. I’ve always said that if we score one run, my job is to put up a zero.”
He’s had some sequences of great starts, showing flashes of his 2011 self. Two of those nine starts have been scoreless, but five of them the right-hander has allowed at least three earned runs. And it’s not from the length of the season wearing on him like many players go through in the month of August. Karstens has tossed just 62.0 innings this season.
“Completely a reversal from where he was last year at this time,” Manager Clint Hurdle said referring to his innings load. “We’re looking for him to tighten some things up. A couple minor adjustments. He’s had some really good sequences overall. It’s been a few pitches that’s been problematic from time to time.”
Karstens said that most of the trouble has been from his curveball.
“I’m falling behind with it,” Karstens said. “I’m getting into some hitters counts that ideally, being a contact guy, you don’t really want to be in. You want to get ahead and kind of go from there. I made the adjustments over the last couple innings, figured out what I was doing and what I needed to do to be better. It’s something I’ll tinker with in a couple days and take it to St. Louis.”
“Ideally it’s the only pitch. I’m not walking guys, they’re getting hits. One of their hits was a blooper that was a tough play. A couple ground balls. They did hit a few balls hard, but I think it’s mainly just going out there and getting the repetition. I’m just trying to get back to where I was.”
Karstens showed sequences of getting on the right track on Monday. The right-hander picked up three strikeouts over his first two innings. He allowed just one hit during that span — a double — which dropped into shallow right field after a failed communication attempt between Garrett Jones in right and Gaby Sanchez at first base. But he ran into trouble in the third.
A.J. Ellis led off the frame with a double that was roped into right center field. A sac bunt from pitcher Aaron Harang pushed Ellis to third base with just one out, and Shane Victorino followed by ripping a two bagger down the right field line to plate the first run. Karstens fell behind Mark Ellis and walked him to put two runners on for center fielder Matt Kemp, who drove one home with a base knock to left field. The right-hander was able to escape the inning after Jones made an outstanding leaping catch up against the Roberto Clemente wall. He was able to double Kemp off at first base, who was on his way to third.
“At first I didn’t know if I was going get to it,” Jones said. “I just kept going straight back. Got a good jump on it, and the last second I just leaped and stuck my glove up there. After I hit the fence, I looked in [my glove] and saw Gaby raising his hands so I threw it to first. It was nice to get that double play.”
Karstens followed that inning up with a scoreless fourth inning, but he wasn’t able to put up a zero in the fifth. A lot of the balls prior weren’t getting hit hard, but were finding holes. And outside a few bad pitches, Karstens was able to show some progress.
With one out in the sixth, pitcher Harang hit a grounder up the middle just out of reach for Clint Barmes. Victorino, continued to give Karstens trouble as he took the right-hander deep on a 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer to right field.
“It wasn’t like I made a terrible pitch, but I threw it down the middle,” Karstens said. “Sometimes you’ve got to just tip your cap. The only thing I could have done differently is maybe not show him as many of those sliders because I think he saw maybe three of them before that. It’s just one of those things where he did a good job of staying on the pitch.”
Karstens was able to finish the outing out strong by retiring eight of his final nine batters. He allowed four earned on seven hits over seven frames. He walked just one while striking out four and throwing 100 pitches, 61 for strikes.
“He battled,” Hurdle said. “To give us seven innings was a positive. The one hitter in the lineup that he was challenged with was Victorino. He left a fastball up for the one RBI, then a breaking ball that kind of broke into his swing path. I thought he still was making some improvements along the way. He’s still [has] a couple things to work on. He went out there and gave it all he got, everything he had. I’m encouraged by the progress that he’s making, but there’s more to be made.”
Jones Posture Key for Consistency at the Plate
Garrett Jones struggled with being consistent at the plate during the 2011 season. Heading into the offseason and spring training, Jones worked hard on his swing and his overall game in order to find more consistent hits at the plate.
After starting the season off slow, Jones has put up some good numbers at the plate over the last two-plus months. In June, the outfielder hit for a .300 clip. He followed that up with a .283 average in July, and so far in August, Jones is hitting .324. That number improved after he belted out a four-hit night driving in three of the Pirates four runs. Two of the four also went for extra bases.
“It’s really been what we’ve been encouraging Garrett, and what he’s worked really hard to get to is holding that position to hit where his foot’s down, he’s tall at the plate, his hands and the barrel of the bat are working out front,” Hurdle said. “He’s worked extremely hard this year. He’s gotten to a good spot. Tonight was another showing of what he’s capable of doing when he gets that way.”
“When I stay tall, it keeps my swing short and direct to the ball instead of getting long and kind of cracking on your back leg,” Jones said. “It tends to get lofty and loopy with your swing. Just emphasize staying tall. It’s just one of the points I use just to keep my swing direct to the ball.”
Rotation Gets Another Shuffle
Manager Clint Hurdle has decided to shuffle the rotation again, this time pushing James McDonald back to Friday in St. Louis and starting A.J. Burnett on Thursday, a day sooner. The move helps in two different ways. It gets veteran Burnett back to his normal five day schedule. It also gives McDonald an extra side session, due to getting two extra days off, which will help him be able to work on some things with pitching coach Ray Searage.
“We’ll take advantage of it with another side session with Ray,” Hurdle said. “A.J. I think the one game, pushing him back the day is sufficient enough, to get him back on a five day schedule. That’s as important as the other one. Keeping your staff in a good place I think would be at the top of the list…We tried to figure out what was best served for our staff ace, and then adjust accordingly.”
General Manager Neal Huntington said that Searage, along with bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and Hurdle are working through the best way to get McDonald back on track. It looked as if McDonald was on track after retiring 11 straight during his last start on Friday. His big fifth inning, in which he allowed six runs, shortened his outing to just 4.1 frames.
“He seemed to take his foot off the gas,” Huntington said. “They’re working hard, they’re looking through the changes in his stuff, the changes in his mechanics, the changes in his approach and his mentality, they’re working hard trying to find that solution that we can get that 11 hitters and turn that in to a couple games. Get him back to where he was the first half. We’re working through some options.”
“We feel like we can correct those struggles. The effort is there, the intensity is there, the stuff is there, we’re just not getting the results that we want right now.”
With the extra time, McDonald will work to regain the first half success he had where he sported a 2.37 ERA in the first half. He has since posted an 8.71 ERA.
The six-man rotation is currently on a day-to-day basis, Hurdle said. That gives Kevin Correia a chance to start, rather than pitch out of the ‘pen in long relief, while giving several of the arms the extra day rest due to the long season and to keep them fresh down the stretch.
“We’re going to evaluate this from day-to-day, pretty much from start-to-start,” Hurdle said. “It’s not so much make it or break it [for Correia], got to throw a perfect game to stay in. We’re just trying to get a feel for it, how we’re best served moving forward. The games are meaningful from this point in. You want to give yourself the best opportunity off the mound to win that game.”
Snider Progressing through Hamstring Injury
Travis Snider continues to progress through right hamstring tightness that forced him to take himself out of the game on Saturday. The outfielder is still undergoing treatment. Snider pinch hit for Gaby Sanchez on Monday and also played the final two innings on defense.
“We’re trying to be a little protective of Snider still,” Hurdle said. “He’s feeling a little better today than he did yesterday. He’s [taken] a bigger step forward to being ready to start.”
Nunez Could be Ready in September
Gustavo Nunez has been out all season rehabbing from a right ankle surgery. When Pittsburgh selected him in December in the Rule 5 draft, they were aware of his ankle injury, but didn’t believe the injury would have taken as long as it has for him to recover. Nunez opened up the season on the 60-day disabled list with a broken ankle and had a set back in July after the screws were irritated.
Nunez was finally healthy enough to begin his rehab assignment today with the GCL Pirates and could possible join the team in September after a long recovery.
“We’ll have to wait and see how his process takes place,” Hurdle said. “We’re just happy that he’s finally on the field. To draft him in December and to have the challenges that he’s gone through. Hopefully he’s in a good place. We feel he is. We’ll get him out playing and see where he can take this.”