Cook: Pirates hitters aren't pitching in
The Indians' Michael Brantley hits a run-scoring single off Pirates pitcher Juan Cruz in the eighth inning Friday in Cleveland.
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CLEVELAND -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle didn't like Garrett Jones' approach to his at-bat in the sixth inning Friday night at Progressive Field. Jones popped out to second base with a runner on third and one out. Hurdle didn't like Alex Presley's at-bat in the seventh. Presley flied out to left field with runners on second and third and two outs. Hurdle wasn't asked about Jose Tabata's at-bat in the fourth, but he couldn't have liked that, either. Tabata chased a breaking ball way out of the hitting zone for strike three with the bases loaded and two outs.
It's safe to say there was just one thing Hurdle liked about the Pirates' lame 2-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, their fourth consecutive defeat.
That would be the pitching of James McDonald.
"Absolutely," Hurdle said. "I'll take that every night."
The Pirates surged to the top of the National League Central Division earlier this month behind the strength of their starting pitching. It was due to drop off -- and it did. Don't look now, but the Pirates trail the first-place Cincinnati Reds by four games. It's not all because of inept hitting, although that's the sorest spot with Hurdle. The starting pitchers have hit such a rough period that he talked before the game Friday afternoon for the first time of getting close to reaching down to the minors. For a Rudy Owens, perhaps? A Jeff Locke? A Justin Wilson? Even a Rick VandenHurk?
It's hard to blame Hurdle. Brad Lincoln has had two bad starts in a row. Erik Bedard was crushed by the Baltimore Orioles Thursday night and is 2-3 with a 6.39 earned run average in his past six starts. Kevin Correia was lousy against the Orioles Wednesday night and is 1-6 with a 4.43 ERA in his past nine starts. Even McDonald struggled in getting a no-decision in his previous start against the Kansas City Royals Saturday night. We'll give him that one tough start, just as we gave A.J. Burnett one when he got lit up for 12 runs May 2 in St. Louis. McDonald and Burnett have been remarkably consistent.
Still, the Pirates needed a good start from McDonald to have any chance against an Indians team that had just been swept in three games by the Reds. McDonald gave it to them, allowing just a run and three hits in six innings. He retired the final 10 batters he faced after the Indians' Carlos Santana cued a weak ground ball just inside the third-base bag for a double that drove in the first Cleveland run.
"The thing that jumps out at me about James is that he's hard to hit," Hurdle said. "He pitched a very good, efficient ballgame."
Certainly, McDonald deserved better. The Pirates were shut out for the sixth time this season, the third when McDonald has pitched. They have scored one or fewer runs when he's been in the game in seven of his 13 starts. He's 0-3 in those starts despite a 2.06 ERA in them.
It's hard to believe the Pirates' offense can be that bad, that it has scored two or fewer runs in 27 of the team's 63 games.
Well, it's not hard to believe if you have paid attention when the Pirates are hitting.
Or not hitting.
"You don't have to tell me about it," Hurdle said. "We're down here living it every day."
Understandably, Hurdle's frustration is building. He had just watched his hitters strike out nine times against Indians starter Justin Masterson. He gave Masterson his due -- "That ball's got a lot of movement" -- but he clearly wasn't thrilled with his hitters. Earlier in the week, he went off at length about his disappointment with Pedro Alvarez's approach at the plate. Friday night, he talked of his batters creating too much "drama" when they step into the box. This was after they went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position against the Indians. In this four-game losing streak, they are 5 for 34 with runners in scoring position.
"We've got too many guys that want to get a hit rather than get a good pitch to hit," Hurdle said.
"They are thinking, "I've got to be the guy," Hurdle said.
"No, you don't. You've got to be the guy if they throw you a good pitch to hit."
Burnett will get the ball against the Indians this afternoon. You get the feeling he has to do McDonald one better.
You know, maybe not allow any runs.
That's the way it has been and will be with this Pirates team.
It will go only as far as the starting pitchers carry it.
First Published June 16, 2012 12:22 am