The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up a reputation last season as a team that hits left-handed pitching well. But their performance wasn’t quite as stellar as some made it out to be.
Pittsburgh finished the 2014 season batting .258 against left-handed pitching. The Pirates performed below league average, posting a 97 wRC+.
Left-handed starters against the Pirates have been few and far between for the most part this season. But Alex Wood became the latest to shut the Pirates down Sunday, pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings as the Braves won 2-1.
Wood needed only 94 pitches to get through his 7 1/3 innings and the most pitches he threw in a single inning was 16. The Pirates struck out eight times and did not draw a walk against him.
His efficient outing relied on stellar command of his curveball in tandem with a sinker the Pirates could only beat into the ground over and over again for outs.
“Any time I can command my breaking ball like that it’s definitely big for me,” Wood said. “When you have it coming out of your hand and the break is good for those pitches you’re trying to throw, those back foot breaking balls to right-handers, that’s when you get your swing and misses. When those two things match up, the command of it and obviously it was spinning pretty good today, it’s definitely a big help.”
Wood gave up only five hits and allowed just one man to advance beyond second base.
“He made pitches and he worked through,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn’t have a lot of situations to push him.”
Against a lineup that consisted entirely of right-handed hitters, Wood commanded his fastball well to his glove-side which kept hitters from making solid contact against him.
“Everything happened too fast I believe,” catcher Francisco Cervelli said. “We started reacting late in the game.”
Cervelli dropped a puzzling bunt in the seventh inning that stifled the Pirates only chance to push Wood Sunday. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte led off with singles, and Cervelli bunted of his own volition.
While the bunt moved runners to second and third with one out, Cervelli also took his own bat out of his hands. He entered Sunday’s game batting .389 against left-handed pitching, and while Jordy Mercer has hit better lately, it was probably more ideal for Cervelli to swing the bat.
Behind Cervelli, Josh Harrison ranks second among all Pirates with at least 30 plate appearances against lefties, hitting .340. Marte has hit southpaws at a .333 clip while McCutchen is batting .326.
But beyond that group, left-handers are befuddling the Pirates this season.
Overall, the Pirates rank 12th in the league with a .672 OPS against left-handed pitchers. Their .249 batting average ranks tenth.
The Pirates have only posted 561 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season, the third-lowest total in the National League.
But while they haven’t faced as much left-handed pitching, especially starters, the Pirates 89 wRC+ shows they’ve performed below league-average against southpaws.
The Pirates added Corey Hart to help that area, but he’s recently been impaired by a shoulder impingement and Sean Rodriguez has taken the majority of starts at first base against left-handers. Hart has hit .107 in 30 plate appearances against left-handers, and Rodriguez’s .222 average is also poor.
There’s also the issue that three of the team’s regulars are usually absent from the starting lineup when there’s a left-handed starting pitcher on the mound. Sunday’s starting nine did not include Neil Walker, Gregory Polanco and Pedro Alvarez.
Both Walker and Alvarez have struggled this season and Polanco is still finding his way as a major-leaguer, now in his first full year with the Pirates. And, for the record, the closest he’ll get to going back to Triple-A Indianapolis will be when the Pirates travel to Detroit for three games this week.
Playing the light-hitting and recently-recalled Gorkys Hernandez doesn’t help matters either, but the Pirates lineup construction on games with southpaws on the mound is hamstrung with the hitters available.
The Pirates next matchup with a left-hander comes Thursday in Detroit against Kyle Ryan, a 23-year old who’s made all of four career starts, with a 4.56 ERA this season.