Collier: Mental clutter in the Pirates' offense
Share with others:
Many of the more than 23,000 in attendance at Oriole Park Wednesday night came in on I-95, and as the old baseball saying goes, so did Pedro Alvarez, riding the derisive interstate at .195 for the middle game of this interleague series.
It would be difficult to illuminate a more damning statistic than .195 for the former first-round draft pick, although the fact that he has one homer since May 3 is a candidate, as is the reality that he still has a chance to reach 70 strikeouts before he gets to 35 hits.
That's hard to do.
While the Pirates offense wilted again in the face of the dubious pressure brought by Baltimore's Jake Arrieta, Alvarez remained only the most conspicuous Pirate that manager Clint Hurdle is trying to lure toward a more favorable mindset he likes to refer to as "the backyard."
This he tried with short-lived success with shortstop Clint Barmes, just one of the underachieving hitters up and down the roster who can't seem to free their minds of mechanical clutter enough to enjoy hitting the way they once did in the backyard.
The feeling is that if mental clutter were quantifiable the way everything else in baseball is, the mind of Alvarez would gets its own episode on "Hoarders."
That's really no fault of Pedro's; it's more an occupational hazard in the age of exploding information. I asked Hurdle if the process of sorting out information can be an obstacle to the coveted backyard mental state of hitters.
"Yes," he said.
"OK," I said. "I'll write that down."
But the manager was eager to expand on the topic.
"We talk internally about this all the time," he said.
"I was a hitting coach, so I'm aware of the thought process, but every time I turn around there's a new statistic or a new analysis, or a new statistical analysis.
"There's a certain number of guys for whom that's a real distraction. What we try to do is remind them that the mind is like a muscle. If you overuse it, it's gonna get sore."
Even at that invitation, it would be an oversimplification to label Pirates hitters a bunch of soreheads, but the helplessness evident almost everywhere in this latest performance was stunning to behold.
Even for this team.
To frame Wednesday night's 7-1 Orioles fly by, go back to Arrieta, whose start was moved up a day after rotation mate Brian Matusz bunted a ball off his nose in batting practice Tuesday.(He's got a nose contusion, and should be able to sniff off a mound in a couple of days). The highlight of Arrieta's season to this point was, and is likely to remain, his exchange of one line of dialogue with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in HBO's hysterical Sunday night sitcom "Veep."
Arrieta had lost six consecutive decisions and was leading Major League Baseball in runs allowed, earned runs allowed, and, um, losses (he was 2-8). When he threw the first pitch of the game to an eager Alex Presley, 30 of the previous 67 hitters Arrieta had faced had reached base. He hadn't worked six innings since May 18, and hadn't struck out more than five in his past four starts.
Oh -- and this -- in his past three starts, Arrieta's ERA was 13.15.
And somehow all of that barreling incompetence went away under the gentle nurturing of the extra-gentle Pirates offense.
"He started out the season as the ace," said Michael McKenry, who caught an ineffective Kevin Correia while going 0 for 3. "So you know the stuff is there. He was throwing four pitches for strikes. He was throwing 94 mph and he was using both sides of the plate. It's special stuff."
Arrieta promptly struck out two in the first inning, then three in the second, and thus the third came fraught with anticipation because you know if there's a team in baseball that can strike out four times in the same inning, you're watching it. When Neil Walker struck out for the third consecutive time in the fifth, it was the club's 500th strikeout of a season in which it still hasn't scored 200 runs.
That, too, is hard to do.
"You'd like to be able to deliver a better punch than that," Hurdle said about that second inning, when Casey McGehee lashed a leadoff double to left only to watch from second as Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Barmes whiffed in succession. "We swung at pitches out of the strike zone on all three."
So as this team fell two games behind Cincinnati, the answer, in case it never returns to first place, is 46 hours, 51 minutes; that's the exact amount of time the Pirates spent there.
And if you're snoring at home, Alvarez left the ballpark on the same desultory figurative interstate, this time I-91.
First Published June 14, 2012 12:00 am