Milledge's big swing brings Pirates big result
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Logic would dictate that Lastings Milledge never should have homered there.
Flash back to the fifth inning of the Pirates' 5-2 flattening of the Milwaukee Brewers last night before 12,188 at PNC Park, and consider the following:
1. There was a runner at third base with two outs, and Milledge might have taken something off his swing to try to push that man home.
2. It was a 3-1 count, usually ideal for an aggressive cut, but none of Manny Parra's first four pitches had been remotely hittable, including the biting curveball for a strike. Bracing for a big swing could not have been simple.
3. He had not homered since Sept. 7, 2008, while with Washington.
But there went that meaty fastball, lasered into the left-field bleachers by Milledge's swing-out-of-your-shoes torque, and the Pirates had lifted their lead from 2-1 to 4-1.
Nobody was complaining, certainly not afterward, by which point Ross Ohlendorf improved to a staff-best 11-8, Andy LaRoche reached base all four times up, Delwyn Young hit his sixth home run, and the team as a whole won back-to-back games for the first time all month.
Why would Milledge swing like that?
• Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (6-7, 4.93) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (11-9, 3.52).
• Key matchup: Milwaukee's Mike Cameron bats .423 off Maholm, 11 for 26 with three home runs.
• Of note: The Pirates' .246 batting average this month is third-lowest in Major League Baseball.
"Why not?" manager John Russell replied. "The kid's very talented. Let him show it."
It could be that such a philosophy, combined with exhaustive instruction and a willing pupil, represents the Pirates' best chance of getting the most out of this player once viewed as a premier talent but now more of a project at age 24. And the balance will be delicate: The staff wants Milledge, a free-spirited personality, to feel comfortable and confident in his new environment, but they also are working to upgrade his hitting, baserunning, outfield play, baserunning and conditioning.
The early signs on all fronts hardly are encouraging, notably at the plate: He is batting .250 with eight RBIs in 15 games and was dropped in the order from No. 2 to No. 6 this week. Moreover, he has shown little of the situational hitting the staff has stressed, including driving to the opposite field.
"This kid is working on an awful lot right now," Russell said. "To his credit, he's absorbing it all, but it takes time."
As for the power, that, as hitting coach Don Long often repeats, comes last. But Milledge did have 14 home runs with the Nationals last year.
"I think it's there," Russell said.
So does Milledge, from the sound of it.
"It'll come," he said. "I came off the disabled list, and getting your groove back, getting your confidence, all that comes through just getting out there every day."
Has the finger affected him?
"Not really. But, when you're out for two months, you lose your swing a little bit."
So, what was his approach during that at-bat against Parra?
"Just get something I can handle. He was working down in the zone, and I wanted to elevate him a little bit. I was able to get something up, and I was able to do some damage."
Was he thinking home run?
"No, I was just being aggressive in my zone. I knew if I hit it hard somewhere, I'd give our team a little cushion there. I saw what I was looking for, and I wanted to be aggressive with it."
Ohlendorf was no less aggressive in his seven-plus sharp innings -- one run, five hits and five strikeouts -- in challenging Milwaukee with all four pitches, including a fastball at 93-95 mph.
Prince Fielder homered off him for the lone run, but struck out swinging his next two times up.
"It's fun to watch, the way Ross is developing," Russell said. "He looks like the kind of pitcher who can be that workhorse for you."
Ohlendorf never looked better than these past four starts, all after pitching coach Joe Kerrigan adjusted his delivery to go more overhead, resulting in better command and velocity.
"I really feel like that's helped me a lot," Ohlendorf said. "I'm pitching with a lot of confidence, relying on my fastball a lot more."
The Pirates, by taking the first two of this three-game set, clinched their first series victory since two of three from the same opponent July 20-22. Tonight, they can claim their first sweep since June 1-4 against the New York Mets, just their third all season.
First Published August 19, 2009 12:00 am