NEW YORK -- Manager Clint Hurdle identified chase percentage, or the number of pitches the Pirates swing at that are outside the strike zone, as one factor among many at play in the team's poor second half.
According to Fangraphs.com, the Pirates swing at 33 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which ranks fourth worst in the major leagues. Improving recognition of the strike zone requires more than physical drills, Hurdle said. Improvement requires adjusting a batter's frame of mind.
"It's taking ownership of the strike zone," Hurdle said. "It's a mentality of going up to hit, not to swing. With young players ... there's an urgency to it. Most are compelled to do it with the barrel rather than see pitches.
Garrett Jones said swinging at bad pitches can result from other offensive struggles.
"That can happen, too, when you're not winning and you want to score runs when you haven't been and you're trying to make things happen," he said. "I think that could have been some of the issues there. Patience could be better sometimes, swinging at the right strikes, getting a good strike to hit and swinging at it."
To amplify the instruction on strike zone recognition, Hurdle said, the Pirates turn to video of patient hitters, such as the Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto or the New York Mets' David Wright.
"What do they have in common? They own the batter's box," said Hurdle, speaking in generalities about patient hitters.
Swinging at pitches outside the strike zone has contributed to the Pirates' 1,276 strikeouts entering Tuesday's game, the third-highest total in the majors.
"We've got to continue to work our way through some of those challenges to find some patience and find some trust and really improve on the ownership and the quality of at-bats," Hurdle said.
Although the Pirates removed James McDonald from the rotation because of his poor second-half performance, Hurdle downplayed the notion that McDonald will have to earn his rotation spot next season.
"I don't think that I would, right now, want to just say, he's got to do this, he's got to do that," Hurdle said. "We just need to get him through the offseason, strengthen him, get him in a good place and let him come in and pitch."
McDonald had a 2.37 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 110 first-half innings. The ERA climbed to 7.52 and his walk total, which was 31 in the first half, is 38 in the second.
"I look at every player and I see them with a belt with a lock on it," Hurdle said. "There's a key that's going to open that lock, but that key doesn't work for every player.
"We've got to find James' key because there is a key there to unlock this young man."
James appeared unlocked until mid-July.
"We've got to help him revisit that," Hurdle said. "Find his way back to that. At the end of the day, it's all about repeatability up here."
Pedro Alvarez hit his 30th home run in the first inning of Tuesday's game against the Mets. He joined Andrew McCutchen with 30 home runs to become the first Pirates duo to hit 30 home runs since 2001, when Brian Giles hit 37 and Aramis Ramirez hit 34.