Pirates notebook: Better start not a goal, but it does help
April 15, 2015 12:00 AM
Pedro Alvarez celebrates a solo home run against the Tigers in the seventh innning Monday at PNC Park.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pirates fought their way into the playoffs last year despite going 10-18 the first month of the season. All’s well that ends well, but they wouldn’t mind getting off to a better start this time.
“It can get you going in the right direction,” Neil Walker said Tuesday.
April began a little rocky, with a season-opening sweep at the hands of the Reds in Cincinnati, but the Pirates won three of the next four. Manager Clint Hurdle disagreed with the notion that slow starts might be in the team’s DNA.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Hurdle said. “But we have been slow starters.”
When asked Monday if he had any early surprises, Hurdle pointed to the fact the Pirates had six starters in the first six games, and it was Jeff Locke and Casey Sadler, a back-end starter and a minor league recall, who gave the major league club its first two wins.
“That puts a smile on your face,” he said.
Third baseman Josh Harrison said the pitching has “set the tone early.”
Walker and Harrison both emphasized that, while April is important because it is never good to dig yourself into a deep hole, it’s no more important than any other month in the long run.
“Our focus is playing good from day one to day 162 and then into the playoffs,” Walker said. “I’m pretty sure if we had the exact same year last year and you would have flip-flopped the months of April and September and asked which you’d rather have, I think most people would say they’d rather have us start off slow than end slow.”
Added Harrison: "Bottom line: We don’t sit here and say, ‘Have a good April.’ We know we’ve got to go out and take care of business. If we do, we’ll have good months."
Hart gets a start
Starling Marte was given the day off Tuesday, with Corey Hart getting his second start in right field and Gregory Polanco shifting from right to left. Hart had a pinch-hit, two-run home run Monday.
The move, Hurdle said, was because of the way Marte has been swinging lately. As of Tuesday, Marte was 3 for 26 and hitless in his past eight at-bats.
“He’s just being challenged right now,” Hurdle said. “We've seen Starling get in some funks, and he’s been able to work himself out of them. One of the ways you help him is to sit him down and give him a chance to catch his breath.”
Morton on the mend
Right-hander Charlie Morton pitched in a simulated game last week in Bradenton, Fla., and is making “incremental” progress, according to Hurdle. Morton was placed on the disabled list April 4 as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.
Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage met Tuesday to “re-map” a timetable for Morton’s return.
“We’re mapping out where we get him out of extended spring to compete,” Hurdle said. “We haven’t decided yet.”
In episode two of the Talk the Plank podcast, Post-Gazette Pirates writers Bill Brink and Stephen J. Nesbitt look back on the first week of the Pirates season. Bonus audio from right-hander A.J. Burnett.
In three innings this year, closer Mark Melancon’s fastball velocity is 88.7 mph, down from 91.6 last season. Melancon allowed four hits and three runs in one inning Monday.
Hurdle isn’t bothered by Melancon’s early dip in velocity.
“We’re going watch and we’re going to communicate,” Hurdle said. “Concern is not a word that I’m going to use. Disappointed is not a word I’m going to use.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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