ST. LOUIS -- To stay fine-tuned between his at-bats, Nate McLouth prepares in a way that simulates a game.
McLouth doesn't take batting practice using a pitching machine. To simulate the speed of live pitching, McLouth has the coach throwing to him in the batting cage move closer and add some extra velocity to the pitch.
"The toughest thing about pinch-hitting and playing less regularly is the sheer speed when you get in," he said.
McLouth, along with manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie, made a small tweak to McLouth's swing -- bringing his hands to the ball quicker -- that has him feeling better at the plate.
"I was getting beat by pitches that I shouldn't have," McLouth said. "I wasn't swinging and missing, but I wasn't hitting them on the part of the bat that I should have been hitting them on."
The adjustment was a simple one, McLouth said, but a tough one to make with irregular at-bats. Hurdle said he tries to start his bench players the day after they pinch-hit to give them consecutive at-bats.
"It's always nice when you get a bench player in one day and get him back in the next day, too, if he can go up there and show some rhythm," Hurdle said.
Before four of his five starts this season, Hurdle has given McLouth an at-bat the previous day.
"He's done a really good job of, the day before I play, giving me an at-bat the night before," McLouth said. "Believe it or not, that does help a little bit."
Tuesday night, McLouth pinch-hit in the eighth inning and ripped a ground ball to first base. Matt Carpenter fielded it and the inning ended, but Hurdle was pleased with the swing.
"I feel he's going to be in a better offensive place to help us, whether it be off the bench or when he does get opportunities to start," Hurdle said.
McLouth got the start Wednesday night in center field while Andrew McCutchen got the night off. McLouth entered the game with four hits in 23 at-bats, eight of them as a pinch-hitter. Even though he batted just once Tuesday, he said he felt the effects of the adjustment.
"[Tuesday] night when I got in the box, it was there," he said. "It was fine, which was a little surprising because it usually takes more than that to make an adjustment. I'm pretty happy with it."
Jose Tabata entered Wednesday's game with a .340 career average against the St. Louis Cardinals. That mark, plus his recent performance, led Hurdle to bat him third while McCutchen got the night off.
"He hits these guys really good," Hurdle said. "That's no secret."
Tabata had a seven-game hitting streak entering Wednesday's game, in which he was hitting .367. In 97 career at-bats against the Cardinals, he has 33 hits and has gone hitless in just two of 25 games against St. Louis.
The Pirates, who entered Wednesday ranking 13th in the National League in slugging percentage, scored eight of their 16 runs in the previous two games on a home run. ... The Pirates committed eight errors in the four games before Wednesday after going six in a row without one.