PITTSBURGH — Since being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels earlier this month, Erik Kratz hasn’t made much of an impression with his bat. He’s 1 for 26 at the plate and his lone hit — a solo home run against the San Francisco Giants — was in the grasp of outfielder Angel Pagan before it fell over the wall.
Obviously, Kratz wasn’t brought it for his hitting. He was brought in to be a reliable defensive presence, and that he has been. He’s thrown out 67 percent of his baserunners — including a from-his-knees snap throw that wiped Matt Ellis off second base Saturday night.
But there’s another part of catching defense, and that’s managing pitchers. That’s a role that can be tough for a new player to really make an impact, but Kratz is already getting there with the Pirates.
“The staff is growing on him,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s an experienced guy. I think once he gets a guy once, he has a much better feel going into the next time. I think that’s showing up well.”
Kratz said it all starts with trust, developing a relationship with each individual on the staff and getting to know their personalities.
“You need to earn that trust and that trust gets built up after a long time,” he said. “Some guys, it may never happen, other guys it happens sooner than others. Everybody’s different. It’s more personality.”
Kratz also feels that a player with his experience, coming in from outside the organization, might help some players by getting a fresh set of eyes involved in the pitching process.
“100 percent,” he said. “You can get in trouble relying on what has worked. The game is always making adjustments. You have more video, analysis and breakdowns, tracking of numbers and everything than ever before, and it’s great. People are always making adjustments.”
One of those adjustments Jeff Locke made on Saturday was of his pace on the mound.
“Any time there’s success, you look at what worked and you also look at how you can improve,” Kratz said. “One of the things he did really well last night was his pace. Not only getting on the mound and throwing, but we weren’t out there second-guessing what we were calling.”
Locke agreed that he and Kratz were “on the same page” all night. It’s a testament to the extra effort Kratz has put in with the pitching staff to build that rapport. That’s the hidden value an experienced catcher can bring.
In the month of June, the Pirates have played against most of the NL leaders in ERA. Sunday, the leader — Clayton Kershaw — will be the mound opponent at PNC Park.
Kershaw leads the league in ERA (1.57), complete games and shutouts (3), innings pitched (115), strikeouts (141), WHIP (.67), walks per nine innings (.5) and strikeout to walk ratio (20.14). Needless to say, he’s really, really good.
“It’s a great opportunity to face a man like this,” he said. “This man has worked himself to the top of the class. … It’s a fun night for us to go battle.”
Battle might be a germane way to put it, too. Not only is Kershaw incredibly accurate, he’s extremely competitive, as well.
“He’s one of those guys that you have to out-compete,” Hurdle said of his team’s approach. “You need to be in the fight. He’s not going to walk anybody.”
The Pirates have had a modicum of success against Kershaw. His 2.90 career ERA against them is the fifth-highest amongst National League teams.
“We’ve been able to score a couple of runs off him, I think that’s what we’re trying to do,” Hurdle said.
• Gerrit Cole threw off a mound for the first time, but the team still does not have a firm time-frame for his return. At this point, he’s likely going to require a rehab start.
• Gregory Polanco (left leg) won’t start for the third straight game and his status of the bench is uncertain.