As a whole, McKenry admirably fills hole
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For a guy who is hitting .206 with two doubles, no triples, no home runs and no RBIs, Pirates catcher Michael McKenry must be doing something right. The team is 7-3 in games he has started. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker should have such a sweet winning percentage.
Easy. Hold the emails. No one is saying McKenry is as valuable as McCutchen and Walker. I'm just suggesting he has done his part to help the Pirates stand up to and stare down the ridiculously difficult challenge of losing their top three catchers to injury. Good thing. Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo are not due back anytime soon. Barring an unlikely trade, the job is McKenry's for some time to come. Eric Fryer, who was called up from Class AAA Indianapolis on the weekend and became the team's seventh catcher when he started Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, will give him an occasional break.
All Pirates manager Clint Hurdle asks of McKenry is to work closely with the pitchers, call a good game, receive the ball cleanly, block the pitches that are in the dirt and throw out his share of would-be base-stealers. He said he has been pleased so far. As for McKenry's lame offense, which has been magnified in a lineup without injured Pedro Alvarez, is getting little consistent production from the third base, first base, right field and shortstop positions and could be without injured left fielder Jose Tabata for some time? "When you get this deep in the catching pool, what can you really expect?" Hurdle asked, shrugging.
The boss re-emphasized pitching and defense to Mc-Kenry Saturday in a brief one-on-one discussion. He also told him his offense would come if he lets it.
" 'Don't try to do too much.' That's the best way to put what he told me," McKenry said. "I'm a little guy. I think I have 'Little Man's Disease' sometimes. I don't want to drive in a run. I want to drive in all the runs."
McKenry is listed as 5 feet 10, 200 pounds but appears to be a couple of inches shorter. The next run he drives in will be his first in the big leagues.
Still, McKenry contributed with his bat to three of the Pirates wins in their 4-2 home stand last week against the Baltimore Orioles and Red Sox. In a 9-3 win Tuesday against the Orioles, he opened a three-run eighth inning with a double. In a 5-4 win Wednesday against the Orioles, he singled and scored the winning run in a two-run fifth. In a 3-1 win Friday night against the Red Sox, he doubled and scored in a two-run third.
But it is none of those hits that McKenry will remember from the week. It's the Jose Veras vs. David Ortiz at-bat Friday in the eighth. With the Pirates holding that 3-1 lead, Veras got the great Ortiz to bounce out to shortstop with runners on second and third.
"That was awesome," McKenry said. "It was really neat to watch Veras get that intense. He had a game plan and went right after him."
McKenry felt comfortable leading Veras through the at-bat. "That's one of my favorite things to do, analyzing hitters." He said he's comfortable with all of the Pirates pitchers, although that took some time. The Pirates are his third team since spring training, which means he had to learn his third group of pitchers, third set of signs, third of everything. He started with the Colorado Rockies, was traded to the Red Sox organization March 29 and came here in a trade June 12 for a player to be named or cash.
"There were times early on when I'd barely get on deck and then walk to the plate," McKenry said. "I was in the dugout talking to the pitcher. We had to figure out a way to attack the hitters."
The Pirates continue to look outside for catching help, although finding it appears to be nearly impossible because of the asking price. "Sticker shock," Hurdle has called it. McKenry said he "couldn't care less" about the speculation that he will be replaced and doesn't pay attention to the many fans who have called him an automatic out. He also isn't looking over his shoulder, waiting for Jaramillo or Doumit to get healthy. He said he's too busy thinking about working with the next pitcher, calling the next game, trying to outthink the next group of hitters. He should be in the lineup tonight when Kevin Correia gets a start against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
"No matter what happens, all I can do is press on and try to get better," McKenry said. "Control the controllables and don't worry about the other stuff. I don't have doubt in my mind that I can play here as much as I used to. I feel like I'm growing every day. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to stay around for a while."
McKenry has a chance to do much more than that, no matter how long he remains with the Pirates. They are 39-38. He has a chance to be a part of the franchise's first winning team in 19 seasons.
A big part, actually.
Forget the .206 average.
McKenry long would be remembered for filing a huge hole at a time the Pirates needed it most.
First Published June 28, 2011 12:00 am