Pregame: Harper Phenom; Walker Batting Second; Slump Busting Activities

With the Washington Nationals coming into town, everyone eyes are on Bryce Harper. The young phenom, who was the Nats first overall pick in the 2010 draft, has only appeared in eight big league games, but he’s showing off his incredible skill set.

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle knows something about being a phenom. Hurdle was a first round pick (ninth overall) by the Kansas City Royals in the 1975 draft. Hurdle made his Major League debut at 20, just a year older than Harper.

“You’re talking about 1978 and 2012,” Hurdle said on the hype of him compared to Harper. “That’s covering 34 years of media. The attention now is so much more dynamic. The opportunities, the wants and the asks are so much more dynamic. I just encourage them to go out and play. That’s what he’s doing. He’s just going out and playing…He’s had much more help and instruction coming up. He’s in a good place now. He’s a smart kid. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s got a good group of men that I’m sure support him over in that clubhouse as well as an organization that’s helping him find direction, the challenges and opportunities that come with the interaction with the media.”

Over his eight games, Harper has hit for a .308 clip with three runs, five doubles and five walks with the Nats. He also swiped home –his first ML steal– after the Phillies starter Cole Hamels intentionally plunked him with a fastball. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

“Eventually, everybody gets one of those. Mine didn’t come as quick, maybe,” Hurdle said. “Boys will be boys.”

 

Second baseman Neil Walker is hitting second in the lineup tonight against the Nats. He’s hit in that spot three other times this season, with the majority batting fourth (12) and fifth (8). With Pedro Alvarez swinging the bat well, Hurdle said he fits in that spot well.

“He had some success driving in runs,” Hurdle said. “He was able to find ways to drive in runs. We had an opportunity to get more guys on base in front on him. He’s also suitable to get on base. Having a guy in the two spot that is a switch hitter is a strength, and can also be a weapon. We’re just trying to find a way right now to stack some people in front of Pedro. The other guys that have produced runs in the past, [Casey] McGhee. He hit behind [Prince] Fielder. This isn’t an uncommon thing to provide protection for our run producer in the lineup. He’s got experience doing it.”

“[Garrett] Jones has got experience to provide protection  for Casey, or vice-versa. It just goes to show that it’s going to come down to us really competing better in the batters box and having a mindset and planning on sticking with it. Not ripping up that plan up halfway through the at-bat and trying to do something dynamic. I think we have a better understanding of that as a club.”

 

The Pirates enter game action tonight hitting for at team .228 avg. That number is ranked 27 in all of baseball. Hurdle talked about slump busting activities today with the media before the game that he did when he was a player. Whatever it takes to get the bats going, right?

“We carried as far as sleeping in the clubhouse in an opposing city,” Hurdle said. “Took BP in a cage late at night when nobody knew —Somewhat attired. I’ve been on teams where we’ve used the same bat through the lineup. We tried to little league them. We used the same bat, kept handing it off. It’s happened in the big leagues, I’ve had teams that have done it. I’ve had guys do things that I’m sure I’m not aware of to try to bust the team out of a collective challenging period. We’ve got some of that going on right now.”

 

  • Pirates lineup vs. Washington: Jose Tabata 7 Neil Walker 4 Andrew McCutchen 8 Pedro Alvarez 5 Casey McGehee 3 Garrett Jones 9 Clint Barmes 6 Rod Barajas 2 A.J. Burnett 1
  • Andrew McCutchen is back in the lineup after missing several games due to the stomach flu. [He’s feeling] much better,” Hurdle said. “He told us this afternoon that ‘he’s feeling like his old self’. We’ll get him back out there and let him play.”
  • Nationals lineup vs. Pittsburgh: Ian Desmond 6, Bryce Harper 9, Ryan Zimmerman 5, Adam LaRoche 3, Danny Espinosa 4, Rick Ankiel 8, Wilson Ramos 2, Roger Bernadina 7, Edwin Jackson 1
  • The Pirates pitching staff has posted a 2.39 ERA over  their first 12 games played at PNC Park this season. Only San Francisco (2.19) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2.36) have better home ERAs than Pittsburgh.
  • The Nationals pitching staff, however, has been the best in baseball. Literally. Their 2.38 ERA is the best in the bigs entering game action tonight. Righty Edwin Jackson will get the nod for the Nats.  Steven Strasburg will follow on Wednesday.

“We’re going to approach it each individual,” Hurdle said. “Their numbers collectively are very good. They’re taking some big strides forward in the last two seasons off the mound, both from internal options and external options. We don’t need to be concerned with what [Steven] Strasburg’s got tonight. We need to make sure we take care of [Edwin] Jackson tonight. We’ve got to find a way to knock Jackson out of the game, get to the long relief and go from there.”

  • The Pirates enter game action with the ninth-best ERA in the Majors at 3.41. A.J. Burnett will make his fourth start of the season tonight. He’s looking to bounce back from allowing 12 runs over 2.1 innings in St. Louis. Prior to that outing, Burnett had allowed just two runs over his first two starts (13.0 innings). In four career starts at PNC Park, Burnett has gone 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA (26.0ip/5er).

 

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