John Heller, Post-Gazette
Adam LaRoche waits on the throw as the Marlins' Alfredo Amezaga returns safely to first base.
When a hitter improves his average by 20 or so points, some specific change usually is the reason. Maybe a hitch addressed here, a stance or a grip modified there.
When it improves 200 or so points?
INDIANAPOLIS (23-14) won at Syracuse, 8-5. RHP Bryan Bullington (6-1, 2.40) allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked three. RHP Brian Rogers (1.69) pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save. DH Luis Matos (.294) hit his first home run and went 1 for 3 with two RBIs.
ALTOONA (18-16) beat Portland, 6-2. RHP Wardell Starling (2-3, 5.30) allowed two runs in six innings. 3B Neil Walker (.283) hit his fifth home run and went 4 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. CF Andrew McCutchen (.185) went 1 for 4 with an RBI double and three strikeouts.
LYNCHBURG (14-20) lost to Wilmington, 12-6. RHP Clayton Hamilton (1-2, 6.75) allowed four runs in two innings. RF Brad Corley (.194) hit his second home run and went 2 for 4. C Steve Lerud (.250) went 3 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI.
HICKORY (15-21) lost at Lexington, 8-3. RHP Mike Crotta (2-2, 5.56) allowed six runs in five-plus innings. RF Jonel Pacheco (.269) hit his 10th home run and went 1 for 4 with two RBIs.
Well, someone ask Ryan Doumit: In 2006, his average wound up .208 after 149 at-bats spread over 61 games. This year, he is batting .397 through 63 at-bats.
What has he changed?
"Not a thing, dude," he said. "It's all confidence. Confidence is key. When you know you're going to be in there on a consistent basis. It's nothing mechanically. My approach hasn't changed. It's just getting a chance to get in there and play. That's all it is."
That is not all there is to Doumit's outrageous production, though:
His .416 average -- 25 for 60 -- since being recalled April 26 from Class AAA Indianapolis is the second highest in Major League Baseball in that span. Only Derek Jeter's .446 is higher.
Eleven of his 25 hits have gone for extra bases.
He has at least one hit in 15 of the 17 games he has started.
For a switch-hitter long labeled as being better from the left side, he is 4 for 16 from the right.
And this from a guy being bounced about the field in manager Jim Tracy's continuing effort to use his bat every night.
Doumit's protests aside, one facet that seems considerably improved is his pitch selection. That began late last season, and it has yet to abate.
"He's swinging at good pitches, and that's the difference," Tracy said. "He's getting himself into favorable counts, getting a good ball to swing at and, when he gets it, he puts it in play."
Tracy praises Castillo
Tracy and everyone else in the Pirates' clubhouse is aware that third baseman Jose Castillo's agent requested a trade if his client does not play more. But, if any friction has arisen as a result, it is difficult to detect.
There certainly appears to be no issue in the manager's office.
"If you walk out there right now and ask him if he's thrilled with his situation, he'd tell you he's unhappy about it," Tracy said. "That's what you would expect to hear. But the manner in which he's dealing with it, I tip my cap to him."
Tracy also praised Castillo for what he described as better approaches at the plate and the best defense he has shown since Tracy arrived in Pittsburgh.
The latter, no doubt, is largely due to Castillo having lost 20 pounds from his playing weight last year.
"I heard all kinds of things about this player, how he can play the game off his feet, the range he has ... that's not something I saw for myself until this year," Tracy said.
Third baseman Jose Bautista, showing marked improvement with his sprained left ankle, took swings off a tee and remains on pace to play sometime this week. "We've made a lot of progress," Bautista said.
Right fielder Brad Eldred was swinging off a tee, too, but that was because he and hitting coach Jeff Manto were on the field for early batting practice. The sole emphasis was on hitting to the right side. Four of Eldred's five hits -- he is batting .122 -- have been pulled to left.
Florida star Miguel Cabrera, hitless in 15 at-bats, was benched by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez. He was 0 for 4 with three swinging strikeouts Monday.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan, a member of the Pirates' 40-man roster and leadoff man at Indianapolis, had surgery yesterday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. He is expected to return in 8-10 weeks.
Reliever Matt Peterson, who had seven saves and a 0.98 ERA as Class AA Altoona's closer, was promoted to Indianapolis yesterday.