Pirates notebook: Offensive upswing bolsters mark

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DENVER -- An improvement in the Pirates offense in the past month has come in conjunction with the team's 14-7 record since the All-Star break.

The Pirates still average 3.9 runs per game, 10th in the National League. Since the All-Star break, though, their .327 on-base percentage and .407 slugging percentage ranked fourth and third, respectively, in the NL.

"We know that eventually something's going to come where we're going to have a real big inning," Andrew McCutchen said. "That's been the thing with us, that's been the thing that's keeping us going right now. I'm not saying we have to depend on that, but it definitely does make it easier when we get going, getting on that roll early in the game."

The Pirates' on-base percentage has increased each month, from .298 in May to .336 so far in August. Their walk total also has increased each month.

"I think it's a conscious effort of having better discipline at the plate and being calmer," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Not being in quick-strike mode, not trying to jump a fastball, just trying to hit one."

McCutchen has helped the offensive improvement, hitting .365 with a .429 on-base percentage and six home runs since the break entering a game Friday against the Colorado Rockies. Neil Walker's performance since returning from he disabled list -- 18 for 55 with seven doubles -- has helped as well.

McCutchen said the team eventually needs to improve its at-bats in the early innings to match its performance in the later innings.

"It should be a little bit different of a ballgame for us being able to work the count, being able to score early, have some pressure early in the game rather than later in the game," McCutchen said.

Evaluating performance since the All-Star break falls victim to arbitrary end points, and a .298 May on-base percentage had nowhere to go but up. But the Pirates have scored 4.19 runs per game in the second half compared to 3.84 in the first. They have scored 4.6 runs per game in their five-game winning streak.

"Our numbers are still somewhat pedestrian, but they are improving, and they're ramping up," Hurdle said.

McCutchen returns

McCutchen returned to the lineup Friday, a day after a sore right shoulder kept him out and limited him to a pinch-hit role.

McCutchen said he continued to treat the shoulder with a heat pack as a precaution.

"I woke up [Friday] morning and it felt pretty good," McCutchen said.

He thought the pain developed gradually, though he said he might have originally hurt it as far back as the Cincinnati Reds series in July. He described it as a nagging discomfort that doesn't affect him on the field.

"I can play, I can hit," McCutchen said. "Sometimes throwing may [stink] but it's not that bad, where if I have to let it go, I'm doubtful about it. It's only after everything's said and done, I'm back home sitting down and it's nagging me."

Rodriguez update

Wandy Rodriguez will throw 25 pitches, all fastballs and changeups, in a bullpen session today, Hurdle said.

Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since early June because of tightness in his left forearm.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.


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