Ritchie tries to improve Pirates' attitude at plate
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The disparity was glaring.
That was the gap between the Pirates' team batting average (.242), last in the National League, and league-leading Cincinnati (.272).
Certainly, that had something to do with another number, 34 -- the difference in the number of wins the teams posted last season.
Somewhere in that span of 30 points in batting average is room for improvement, and first-year hitting coach Gregg Ritchie knows it.
"Has to get better, just has to," he said early Friday morning in the team's clubhouse at McKechnie Field. "That's part of my job. We have to have a disciplined aggression to make it get better."
When Ritchie, who served as the organization's minor league hitting coordinator the past five seasons, was named the big league hitting coach in November soon after Clint Hurdle was hired as manager, he immediately diagnosed components that needed improvement.
"There are a number of things that stuck out," said Ritchie, who took over for Don Long, whose contract was not renewed after last season. "There is the walk-to-strikeout ratio, we need to have better two-strike at-bats. Also, something that you can't state enough is how early in the count takes care of later in the count. You have to be successful early in the count. Those are the key focuses."
Last season, the Pirates struck out 1,207 times, in the middle of the pack in the NL, but the team walked only 463 times, 15th out of 16 teams.
So what are some of the primary points of focus as the Pirates work to improve their team batting average?
"It is what you can control, that is what you have to concentrate on," centerfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "It is the beginning of the at-bat, it is preparing yourself for whoever is pitching. It is being ready every pitch, it is your approach before things happen.
"That is what you can control, because you can't control what happens once you swing. Once the ball hits the bat, it is out of your control."
McCutchen, whose .286 average was tops among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, doesn't believe it is necessary to quantify an offensive goal this season.
"I don't look at numbers, I don't look at a goal or something that I want to be around either as an individual or a team," McCutchen said. "Because, if I were to reach that, I'd be saying, 'I could have gone higher.' If I were to set a goal, I would make it highly impossible to where I couldn't reach it."
Even without a specific goal, McCutchen already is keen on Ritchie's instruction.
"He is trying to feel things out," McCutchen said of Ritchie. "This is his first time doing this. He is asking us what we do to prepare ourselves and what do we want to do. Basically, he is taking as much from us as we are from him. He doesn't want to make it a one-set thing to where this is what everyone is going to do, this is how everyone is going to approach things. Because everyone has something they need to work on differently to improve."
First Published February 26, 2011 12:00 am