Pirates pitchers showing progress at the plate

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens realizes the majority of his at-bats are not going to end with him on base.

"I'm not the greatest hitter," Karstens said with a wry smile. "I'm not going to hit for a lot of power."

That's not breaking news. Karstens has six hits — all singles — in 79 career at-bats, a .076 average.

"But if I can handle the bat a little bit and move some runners over, it will be beneficial," Karstens said. "I take some pride in that."

It's something the Pirates' starting rotation has done well this season.

The starters entered Friday night's game with a combined .082 batting average (5 for 61). But 10 of the Pirates' 16 sacrifice bunts have been produced by the pitchers. St. Louis leads the majors with 18 sac bunts.

Manager Clint Hurdle will take it.

"The pitchers deserve a lot of credit," said Hurdle, who insisted they bat during spring training games in hopes of improving their performance during the season. "We have improved dramatically from the tape I watched (from) last year to what we're able to do now. Our sac bunt ratio is sky-high. The hits haven't come maybe as we would've liked, but they're having good at-bats and making better outs."

Pitchers can have a productive at-bat, even if it ends with a whiff.

"If I'm going to strike out, I want to at least see five or six pitches," Karstens said. "If I can do that, it will build up the pitch count for the other pitcher and can get him out the game earlier. It can pay off."

Karstens is averaging 4.67 pitches per plate appearance, third-best on the team behind infielder Brandon Wood (4.90) and pitcher James McDonald (4.67). The major league average is 3.82.

In his start April 17 against Cincinnati, Karstens faced 10 pitches in two at-bats against Edinson Volquez. The Reds right-hander left after throwing 110 pitches in 5 23 innings, and the Pirates scored a run in the eighth to pull out a 7-6 victory.

The next night, Kevin Correia fouled off three fastballs in a gritty, eight-pitch at-bat against Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman.

"I tried to move out of the way, but I think I moved after it was already by me," Correia said with a laugh. "He's throwing 103 (mph) and I'm just ... I don't know what I'm trying to do. I was able to foul off a couple pitches, and that's good by me."

Every day before regular batting practice, coach Mark Strittmatter works in the cage with three pitchers.

"Nothing special, just get our reps and work on certain situations," Strittmatter said. "One thing we stress is, if the manager has confidence in you handling the bat, you could pitch two more innings and possibly get a win. Two more innings over 30 starts, that's 60 more innings pitched."

Strittmatter said the pitchers have an informal competition: who can see the most pitches, who gets all his bunts down.

"They've taken real pride in what they've done this year," Strittmatter said. "The guy who stands out for pure power is Ross (Ohlendorf). The guy who surprises me most in the cage is Jeff Karstens. He can really handle the bat."

Additional Information:

View from the box

Pirates starting pitchers at the plate this season:

McDonald: 1 hit, 10 at-bats, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 1 sacrifice bunt, 0 sacrifice flies, 4.67 pitches per plate appearance

Karstens: 1, 10, 0, 5, 1, 0, 4.64

Maholm: 1, 9, 1, 5, 2, 0, 4.25

Correia: 0, 17, 0, 8, 4, 0, 3.29

Morton: 1, 12 0, 5, 2, 1, 3.20

Ohlendorf: 1, 3, 0, 1, 0, 0, 3.67

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