Bob Smizik: Treading water

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The Pirates can’t seem to turn it around; nor do they seem ready to take the plunge. They were six games under .500 coming into what figured to be a very difficult May. They are 8-9 this month, which is better than might be expected based on their April performance. But it’s still not good enough. If they keep playing at approximately this rate, they might become a .500 team late in the season. But they won’t become a contender.

They split a doubleheader with the Yankees yesterday but mixed in among the three games they played in New York were sloppy base running and poor fielding. There were base running gaffes and errors of overagressiveness. A Travis Snider error on a routine play in right field allowed a run to score in the second game. The fielding which was a team strength in 2013 is not particularly apparent this season.

Some thoughts on the games yesterday:

■ In the second game, Bryan Morris was removed after retiring the only two batters he faced in the seventh. He was replaced by Tony Watson, who, in turn, was removed after pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Where’s the screaming? Where’s the suggestions manager Clint Hurdle is an idiot from taking out pitchers doing well? Where’s the talk that a manager should stick with a ‘hot’ pitcher? There’s none of that today because Hurdle’s strategy was successful. The Pirates were 80-3 when leading after eight innings last year. In almost all of those 80 wins, he removed a pitcher who had worked successfully in the eighth. That’s how the game is played, folks. Get used to it

■ With a home run in the first game, Tony Sanchez continued to hit like his bat might play on the MLB level. But his defense, particularly his throwing, does not give that indication. It’s clear why the Pirates traded for Chris Stewart to serve as the backup to Russell Martin and why Sanchez deserves to be demoted when Martin comes off the disabled list. Sanchez will be 26 tomorrow and is at an age when you have to wonder if he will ever be defensively good enough to be a full-time MLB regular.

■ Both Jose Tabata and Starling Marte left the second game with hamstring injuries. So far there is no indication of the seriousness of the injuries or whether they will cause the players to miss time. Tabata pulled up lame and was easily thrown out trying to go from first to third on Stewart’s run-scoring single in the second. After hitting a home run in the sixth, Marte played the field that inning but was removed at the start of the bottom of the seventh. If the Pirates have to reach down to Indianapolis, it looks like Jaff Decker, who's having a hot May, will get the call.

■ It’s time to take Josh Harrison seriously. He has significant shortcomings to his game but so do some of those playing in front of him. I wrote the other day that based on how well he played last season, Tabata should start in right field until Gregory Polanco arrives. The improved play of Harrison and the continuing blah play of Tabata has caused me to change my mind. Harrison’s home run in the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie in the second game. He is batting .364 for the month. For the season, he leads the team in batting average (.304) and slugging percentage (.554). He is the quintessential player who will be exposed if played too often. But he deserves more starts -- even if Tabata is healthy.

■ I keep reading the Pedro Alvarez’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) indicates he’s due to be getting more hits. It’s not happening. He is 1-for-12 and his batting average is down to .209 and his slugging percentage to .373. Worse, he’s not hitting home runs. He is 42 at bats without a homer and has only two this month.


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