ST. LOUIS -- When the Pirates acquired first baseman Justin Morneau at the end of August, the former Minnesota Twin was ending a month in which he hit nine home runs.
In more than a month since, Morneau is homerless. But he has continued to find ways to contribute to the Pirates offense and Friday helped the team trounce the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-1.
Morneau scored two of the first four runs and finished 2 for 5 with a double. In three postseason games, he is 4 for 13 (.308) with three runs scored.
It's not quite the production a team expects from its cleanup hitter, but the Pirates see progress.
"He hasn't gotten in a groove by any means or hot," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He hasn't gotten in the air at times. ... I think he's finding better rhythm, better rhyme at the plate."
Morneau said he isn't too concerned about his stat lines. He just wants to help.
"At this time of year, all that really matters is winning," he said. "Obviously, if I hit, it's going to give us a better chance to win."
Embracing the shifts
While Hurdle often has said he was slow to come around to the idea of defensive shifting, he was exposed to it decades in his playing days by Hall of Fame Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, he said Friday.
"Whitey was probably as aggressive and creative with defensive shifting as anybody I know," Hurdle said. "He kept his own personal spray charts. ... I'd watch this man show up to the park with his bag and his colors and his ruler and his papers. Finally, one day late in my career, I asked him, 'What are you doing?'
"I thought he was just coloring. So, he was very innovative."
The Pirates have embraced an aggressive defensive shifting plan that has made them one of the most efficient teams in baseball in turning balls hit in play into outs.
Second baseman Neil Walker, who sometimes plays over the bag at second and sometimes in shallow right as part of the team's shifts, said there was some skepticism the past couple years as the Pirates tested defensive shifts.
"I think over most of last year and this year, we've kind of given into it," he said. "Because, to be honest with you, there are certain times you feel like you're in no-man's land as a middle infielder. ... But giving into it has been, in my opinion, pretty successful."
Mercer used for his offense
While Jordy Mercer was the starting shortstop the majority of the season, his playing time decreased in recent weeks after a costly error against the Cincinnati Reds.
Then, the Pirates needed defensive stability. Now, they need offense.
Mercer got the start Friday over Clint Barmes, in a move Hurdle said was meant to inject some offense to counter a potent Cardinals lineup.
Remaining start times set
Major League Baseball released start times for the remainder of the NLDS, and the Pirates and Cardinals are not scheduled, for now, to play a prime-time game.
Game 4 will start at 3:07 p.m. Monday at PNC Park.
Game 5, if necessary, will start at 5:07 p.m. Wednesday in St. Louis, unless the other NLDS series is over, in which case the game would begin at 8:07 p.m.
All the Pirates remaining games will be broadcast on TBS.
On Thursday, the league announced Game 3 will start at 4:37 p.m. Sunday at PNC Park.
The Pirates are reminding fans to use tickets marked NLDS Home Game 1 Sunday for Game 3 of the NLDS and tickets marked NLDS Home Game 2 for Game 4 Monday. If fans discarded those tickets in error, they should contact the club.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published October 5, 2013 4:00 AM