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Thursday, December 8, 2022

McKenry Learning to Adjust to Backup Role

Michael McKenry

After the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired catcher Michael McKenry from Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox) on June 12 of last season, McKenry went on to start in 58 games over the remainder of 2011. The Bucs’ catchers were plagued with injuries during the 2011 season — needing to use eight different catchers behind the plate. McKenry became the primary catcher when he was acquired, but his role this season is different. And it’s been an adjustment for the 27-year-old. McKenry went deep of Miami’s Josh Johnson on Tuesday night, his second of the season. Overall, the catcher is hitting .195/.298/.688 after starting the season off well — .300 (6-for-20) in eight games in April.

“It’s a learning process — catching-wise and hitting-wise,” McKenry said. “I’ve made a lot of adjustments this offseason hitting, so it started out really, really good. Just not playing everyday, trying to adjust to keeping your timing after making your adjustments is kind of tough at times. I’m learning as I go. I ask Rod [Barajas] a lot of questions. I ask some guys that have either played back up roles or played utility infield roles, whatever it may be. Just trying to learn on the fly and hopefully as the season goes, I continue to get a little better at help this team.”

McKenry has started in 12 games so far this season, with veteran Rod Barajas making 24 starts behind the dish. McKenry said he puts a lot of time in trying to stay fresh since he’s not playing everyday.

“A lot situational hitting in the cage. A lot of extra throwing. A lot of extra blocking. I try to make it as game-like as I can, as situational as I can,” McKenry said. “Sometimes it’s hard, but really just doing anything I can to stay fresh.”

Improving on the opposing teams running game was something that the club focused on during spring training. McKenry has done well at nailing runners attempting to swipe bases. During his start on May 10, McKenry nailed Danny Espinosa trying to steal second with one out in the second inning. Overall, McKenry is 2-for-5 (40%) on caught stealing.

“The pitchers are doing a better job this year at holding guys on and varying their times, giving us an opportunity,” McKenry said. “I know last year at times it got tough. Stealers are going to get their stolen bases. We’ve got to utilize that when we do have a chance, to take advantage of it. If these guys keep throwing the way they do, any out is precious, but these guys are mowing guys down right now — knock on wood — so hopefully they can continue to do that. That’s the number one focus.”

McKenry is grateful for his opportunity to play in the big leagues. Nicknamed ‘The Fort’, he said he’s excited to be a part of this club and to be able to catch the Pirates pitching staff. Their team ERA of 3.15 entered game action on Tuesday ranked No. 2 in the Majors this season. And their 2.65 bullpen ERA ranked No. 4.

“Every guy is trying to grow. Trying to get a little bit better whether they’re adding a pitch or enhancing a pitch they already have, or just commanding their strengths instead of trying to reinvent the wheel,” McKenry said. “I think sometimes with all this knowledge and scouting reports, we try to make something out of nothing. I think this year every guy on our staff, even guys that haven’t had the early success, are going to come out on top just because their continually growing, continually growing. They want to be the best, not only on this team, but the best in the league. I think it’s a special group of guys. They work well together. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

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John Lease

He’ll be useful until he commands arbitration. Then he’ll be on his way. The Pirates need some hitters, and backup catchers should be able to hit somewhat. Plenty of guys in the minors who’d like the chance.

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