PITTSBURGH, Pa. — All eyes were on slugging first baseman Albert Pujols while he went homerless over his first 27 games to start the 2012 season. While in Pittsburgh, several Pirates have yet to see the ball go out of the ballpark. It’s expected for a player like Pujols to go deep over 30 times in a season, but Pittsburgh isn’t built to be a home run threatening club. But that’s not to say that several players on the team shouldn’t be adding some pop in the lineup.
All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen is one of them. While the club isn’t going to have an over-powering lineup, McCutchen is one that has the potential to be putting up double digit numbers in the home run department. Last year, the 25-year-old connected for 23 long balls. Over 25 games this season, McCutchen has not yet hit a homer over 94 at-bats.
McCutchen has shown power at the plate. The center fielder has hit six doubles and a triple this season, and has hit several balls to deep parts of the ballpark.
“Power is more than home runs. Power is extra base hits. Power is driving the ball to the gap. Power is putting yourself into a position to score,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Obviously we love home runs, but there is more to it than home runs. Andrew hit two balls in San Francisco that are out of any ballpark in America, except for that one. In reality, he should have two. And you can argue he’s hit a couple here that get out of most ballparks, but because the cold air, the cold weather, they didn’t get out. Andrew could very easily have three or five and we’d be talking the other way, how his power’s coming on.”
“We’ve got a number of guys that are capable of anywhere from 10 to 20 home runs in our lineup. We’ve just got to get some guys rolling…We don’t want guys focused on trying to hit the ball out, we want guys focused on quality plate appearances, team at-bats, doing what we need to help score runs. The home runs will come with the result of good quality plate appearances.”
The Pirates have a combined 18 long balls this season, which is tied for 25th in the Majors with the Washington Nationals. Leading the club is Pedro Alvarez’s seven. Second baseman Neil Walker, who hit 12 homers during the 2011 season, connected for his first on Saturday.
“Home runs come and go,” Walker said. “For me as a switch hitter, that’s not my approach. I’m not worried about hitting home runs. But when I do, I’m excited about it. I’m certainty not trying to go up there and hit the ball out of the ballpark. Just trying to make solid contact.”
“We all would,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said on whether he’d like to see Walker show more power. “We’d like to see him gap the ball. Along the lines like he did last year and the year before.”
Hurdle is aware of the club’s lack of home run power. He knows the home runs will come, and is encouraged by their body language at the plate.
“I think hitting’s contagious. I think lack of hitting’s contagious,” Hurdle said. “This is nothing new for our team this year. And really, if you look within the industry, there’s a lot of other teams within the industry with players of this magnitude experiencing the same thing. Good pitching beats good hitting. There’s a lot of good pitching going on early. As far as power, power comes and power goes. I’m encouraged that Andrew is not out there swinging like he was in the second half of the season [last year]. Home runs will come. Especially if you’re a guy that’s hitting one every 30 at-bats anyway, what’s the big deal? He hasn’t even had 100 at-bats, so how many is he really short? If you want to dig deeper. How many is Walker really short? How many home runs have they averaged in their career?”
“I don’t take it any deeper than that. Do we talk about it? We talk about everything in here. There’s really nothing that we don’t have conversations about because I think it’s healthy. You find out what they’re thinking, if there is something more involved. But more often than not, you just watch how they go their at-bats because guys will tell you, ‘I’m trying to do this. I’m trying to do that.’ You watch the tape. No they’re not. Their bodies are telling you something completely different and it’s so loud, what their bodies are doing. I don’t even need to listen to their words. We’re not experiencing that with Walker and McCutchen.”
Veterans Rod Barajas, Nate McLouth, who both signed a one-year deal with the club over the offseason, as well as Casey McGehee, who was acquired from Milwaukee, have yet to see the ball go out of the park.
“You can throw [Clint] Barmes in there,” Hurdle added. “He’s hit over 20. It’s in the clubhouse. Maybe it’s a virus, but I think we’re on the backside of it.”