It was a great privilege to cover the Pirates this past weekend at Dodger Stadium. The team’s offense still has to make some drastic improvements to consistently score runs, and before I left Chavez Ravine, I asked some of the players and coaches how that will happen.
No Platoon for Pedro Any Time Soon
It is Clint Hurdle’s decision whether Pedro Alvarez will platoon in the immediate future, but the manager made it clear Sunday it’s “definitely not” happening.
“No way,” the Pirates manager said. “He’s gonna have to cut his teeth up here at some level.”
Tim Williams brought the question up again in his First Pitch post Monday, and it garnered a good bit of — ahem — reaction. Hurdle is not blind to Alvarez’s poor career numbers against left-handed pitching: the .272 on-base percentage, the .612 OPS, the 39% strikeout rate. He is sticking with the guy who, with “one swing of the bat” can change a game.
“It’s about giving men an opportunity to be challenged, to meet a challenge, to overcome a challenge,” Hurdle said. “We’ve invested in this young man.”
The investment, to recap, was a $6 million signing bonus with more money to come when Alvarez is eligible for arbitration next season. The third baseman knows his at-bats against lefties early on this season (0-for-12, 8 strikeouts) have to improve. His strategy?
“Just to keep fighting, keep battling,” Alvarez said. “Wishful thinking is saying ‘get [strikeouts] out of the way now,’ but I have to learn as much as I can from these at-bats.”
Walker Slow-Going, Too
Offensive numbers are always depressed early on in the season, but the Pirates’ .399 team OPS and Neil Walker’s .298 OPS are both taking that to extremes.
“My take on early in the season is that the pitchers kind of have the upper hand,” Walker said Saturday. (Don’t think that Walker is making excuses. That quote was a response to me asking if he had ever seen a pitcher start the season as well as the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.)
Like Alvarez, Walker is taking his April lumps against lefties, going 0-for-10 with no walks against them so far. But one must recognize that at least part of Walker’s 0-for-19 slide in the last week is due to tough pitching.
“We still got to battle, but yeah, it’s sometimes nice not seeing [Zack] Greinke and Kershaw on the mound,” Walker said.
Hurdle said Sunday he “doubts” Alvarez or Walker will sit on the bench Tuesday night against right-hander Brandon McCarthy, but “maybe” Wednesday when the Pirates face left-hander Wade Miley. Walker, a switch hitter, owns a career OPS that is 119 points higher against righties than against lefties.
Hitting Coach Responds
Even after five runs in Monday’s win over the Diamondbacks, the Pirates still rank last in baseball in runs, hits, extra-base hits and OPS, in addition to collecting the third-most strikeouts.
Hitting coach Jay Bell points out that the Pirates have been in a position to win every game, but “haven’t quite done it.” Despite the frustrations, he offers a repeated message to his hitters.
“Do what you’re capable of doing every at-bat, try to do your best to have as quality an at-bat as you possibly can,” Bell said. “It’s just a matter of getting a timely hit there or maybe a pitch there.”
The fact that the team’s pitching has performed far better than the offense is not lost on Bell.
“I know the hitters are saying, ‘I want to do everything I can possibly do to help my teammates out,'” the former Pirates shortstop said. “It’s just a matter of time before they start swinging well as a team.”
(One extra tidbit: When I asked Bell about Alvarez being dominated by Clayton Kershaw to the tune of 0-for-6 with six strikeouts, he responded that it’s still early in both of their careers and pointed out that John Smoltz used to give him trouble personally. Indeed. In 83 plate appearances, Bell hit just .197 with a .582 OPS against the former Braves starter.)