Quality at-bats are key to offense
Alex Presley was part of a Pirates lineup that lived up to its potential in Sunday's win against the Phillies.
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The Pirates lineup displayed its potential Sunday with timely singles and extra-base hits.
That same offense, however, struggled to make good contact during the first two games of the season against two of the league's best starters.
"We know that offense has got to be a part where we've got to step up our game," manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday morning.
The Pirates took two of three games from the Philadelphia Phillies in the first series of the season, including one in which left-handed star Cliff Lee started. But Lee allowed one run on two hits, and Roy Halladay, who started the season opener, allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings.
"We've just got to keep going and getting good at-bats," Hurdle said. "We gave away a handful of at-bats [Saturday] night, I thought. All in all, we're not getting a lot to hit."
- Game: Pirates at Dodgers, 4:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7.
- Probables: RHP Kevin Correia (0-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (0-0, 0.00)
- Key matchup: Correia vs. Andre Ethier, who is .500 (10 for 20) with two doubles and four RBIs against him in his career.
- Hidden stat: Correia allowed 10 earned runs in 21/3 innings in his final spring training start.
That won't change on the road trip, which begins today in Los Angeles against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 National League Cy Young winner. They will also probably face Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy, two tough NL starters, on the nine-game West Coast road trip.
Whether or not the Pirates oppose an ace starter, the approach at the plate -- and the approach to good pitches -- remains important.
"We missed a handful of pitches the first two nights," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We still had some pitches to hit and we've got to square those up. If you get a pitch that's not what you're looking for, even if it's a strike, you can't swing at it. That takes some maturity, that takes some discipline."
They displayed that capability Sunday. Casey McGehee went 2 for 2 with two doubles, Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 and Pedro Alvarez hit a long home run. Alex Presley and Matt Hague also had RBI singles.
Hague's RBI single came when he pinch-hit for Alvarez against Phillies left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo, one of the toughest pitchers against lefties in the NL last season. The left-handed Alvarez and Garrett Jones did not start Saturday's game against Lee.
"[Hurdle is] going to put the lineup out there that he feels gives us the best chance to win," Huntington said. "At the same time, he knows that if Pedro is hitting the way he's capable of, we're a much better offensive club."
Huntington said sitting Alvarez, Jones or Presley against left-handers may prevent them from starting the season poorly, but that the team wanted them to face left-handers at times as well.
"There are times where a hitter needs to face a same-side pitcher because it closes him down mechanically, and he can't get away with some things he can against an opposite side pitcher," Huntington said.
One area of the offense in full swing during the opening series was the bunting game. Clint Barmes advanced Michael McKenry in the bottom of the 10th Saturday with a perfect bunt to the left side of the infield, and Presley sent Josh Harrison to third with a similar bunt Sunday. Both runners scored the winning run.
"They're the best bunts that we've probably had all spring," Hurdle said. "We've had a handful, but they've been precise, they've been executed well."
Presley, who worked on bunting in the offseason and said over the winter that he planned to bunt more this year, said the key to advancing a runner to third was to get the third baseman involved in the bunt coverage.
The bunts, along with above-average performance from the starting rotation, sent the Pirates west with a series victory. The maturation of the top four hitters -- Presley, Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, who are 26 or younger -- will play a role in the development of the offense, Huntington said.
"There's going to be the ebbs and flows there, where instead of staying with a fastball away from you and driving it to right-center field, you try to do too much to it and end up pulling it and rolling over it," Huntington said. "There's no doubt that those four are going to drive us, and we're going to need them to step up and do some things."
First Published April 10, 2012 12:00 am