The Pirates had some unlikely heroes step up in tonight’s 7-4 win over the Miami Marlins.
The offense was led by Michael McKenry. That’s the same Michael McKenry who Pirates fans have wanted demoted in favor of Tony Sanchez for most of the last two months. It’s the same McKenry that had just three hits from May 30th to July 20th. Tonight McKenry had four hits, which is a career high. He brought in two of the runs. In the last week he is 7-for-13, including tonight’s game.
“I think he’s continued to work to try and find something to give him a better opportunity to compete with sporadic playing time,” Clint Hurdle said. “One of the things he’s talked about and we’ve worked on is almost having a two strike approach when he gets into the box, and not waiting until it’s two strikes. I think he’s put a lot of work into that in the cage and his BPs before games, and what we’re seeing now is he’s getting a little more comfortable with it, and it’s starting to show up.”
McKenry described how he had previously played every other day, and almost got the bulk of the playing time for three months straight last year. He has been in a reduced role this year with Russell Martin catching so many games.
“Learning a new role is always hard,” McKenry said. “But my number one priority was the pitching staff. I do everything I can to call a good game, block, throw, and whatever I need to do behind the plate. And then hitting comes last. It’s just taking time. It’s hard. It’s the hardest role, I’d have to say, in baseball.”
Then there was Neil Walker, who added three more hits and brought in two more runs. Walker had a .198/.304/.328 line in 116 at-bats from the start of June to the start of tonight’s game. A big problem for him this year has been his lack of hitting against left-handers. Walker has a .788 OPS against right-handers, and just a .435 OPS against lefties. All three hits tonight came against a right-hander.
“Obviously as a switch hitter you don’t get a ton of at-bats right handed, and when you try to do too much it’s counter productive,” Walker said of his struggles against left-handers. “Unfortunately in our division we don’t have a lot of left-handed starters, and that’s where you get your rhythm from. When you’re facing the Chapmans and the 7th, 8th inning guys that are in there for one inning, you have to just simplify things and not do too much. Use the middle of the field and square balls up. But it’s a lot easier said than done. It’s no secret what my numbers have been right-handed this year. I’ve been working hard to simplify things.”
Garrett Jones is another guy who has been struggling since the start of June. He had a .235/.284/.424 line in 132 at-bats from the start of June through yesterday’s game. He also struggles against lefties, but since he’s in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez he mostly plays right-handers, which is where his struggles have come from. Tonight Jones picked up two hits and brought in two runs.
It looked like Jones was starting to heat up, with a six game hitting streak surrounding the All-Star break, including three doubles and two homers. However, he followed that up by going hitless in his next four games.
The Pirates have also struggled recently with runners in scoring position, but that wasn’t the case tonight. They were 6-for-17, coming up big in the first inning for three runs with three doubles. They didn’t get that elusive sacrifice fly, still being held to one since the middle of May.
Morton Doesn’t Have Best Stuff, But Sharktank Picks Him Up
Charlie Morton got the start tonight, and didn’t have the best results. The third inning was especially difficult, with Morton giving up three of his four runs on the night.
“I don’t think he ever really got into a good rhythm,” Clint Hurdle said. “The sinker was inconsistent. A lot of balls were up and he threw some balls that were cut. And then he threw some good ones. So all the pitches, they were kind of come and go. Some of the breaking balls were good, some of them were looped and hung.”
Morton chalked the performance up to his command. He gave up four runs, three earned, on nine hits in five innings, with no walks and six strikeouts.
“Command-wise, I don’t think I had very good command,” Morton said. “There were some pitches I’d love to have back in terms of command and execution. Stuff was average, but they picked me up.”
The third inning saw a lot of errors and groundballs that found holes, which didn’t help. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte bobbled balls in the outfield on back to back plays, leading to runners advancing each time. Morton later allowed a hard ground ball to roll through the right side of the infield, followed by a slow roller on a swinging bunt to third that went for an infield hit. He later gave up a single up the middle on a hard hit ball to Jordy Mercer, which would have been a double play ball if Mercer wasn’t eaten up on the play.
The offense obviously bailed Morton out, and the bullpen picked him up. Justin Wilson led the way with 1.2 shutout innings, which Hurdle said was an important thing.
“Wilson was very good tonight,” Hurdle said. “He gave us some length that we needed.”
Bryan Morris picked up the final out in the seventh, then added two more outs in the eighth. Tony Watson got the final out in the eighth, then Mark Melancon came on to pick up the save. It was a committee-like approach to get to Melancon, which could be the way the Pirates will go with Jason Grilli out.
McKenry Tweaks His Knee
Michael McKenry experienced a tweak to his knee, similar to what Russell Martin said yesterday. McKenry said ”it just kind of stuck”, describing how the left knee felt as he slid into second. He stayed in the game, as Martin was getting the night off with his knee.
The combination of injuries could result in the Pirates bringing Tony Sanchez up on the taxi squad tomorrow. Hurdle said after the game that it was too soon to know about McKenry’s availability. Martin could start tomorrow, but that hasn’t been confirmed.