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Kovacevic: Will GM ever address Pirates' hitting?

| Monday, May 21, 2012, 12:03 a.m.
The Pirates' Garrett Jones reacts after striking out with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning against Washington Thursday May 10, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Nate McLouth throws his bat after being called out on strikes Sunday May 5, 2012 against the Reds at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out in the second inning to Astros starting pitcher Bud Norris at PNC Park May 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Pittsburgh Pirates' Nate McLouth (2) paces around home plate after a swinging strike against the Arizona Diamondbacks during an MLB baseball game Tuesday, April 17, 2012, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

DETROIT — Give it up for these Pirates. They've got to be the only team in Major League Baseball that strikes out 15 times against a pitcher with a 6.29 ERA — all swinging! — and still somehow stays in the game. At least until they bury themselves with a booted blooper, a passed ball and yet another strikeout by Pedro Alvarez, the day's designated oxymoron.

Tigers 4, Pirates 3.

Not an easy team to love, is it?

Or to believe in.

And yet, I couldn't help but take seriously something Andrew McCutchen was saying earlier Sunday at Comerica Park: “Look at what we've done so far without really having our offense yet. We know the pitching's going to be there. If we can get the offense going, even just a little, we'll be unstoppable.”

I wouldn't go that far. But thanks almost entirely to McCutchen's tour de force and one of baseball's best pitching staffs, the Pirates are 19-22. That's respectable, if not riveting, and it's just 3 games off the Central Division lead.

Anyone else think that at least a foundation is there?

Not for the future. Right now.

Here's an amazing figure: When the Pirates score as many as two measly runs, they're 18-9.

“We've already got the most important thing,” catcher Rod Barajas said. “If you have that pitching — and we do — then you've got a chance to win every single day. Remember the Giants a couple years ago? They won it all with their pitching. If we can hit just enough, we've got a chance.”

I wonder if the Pirates' management sees the same thing.

So far, based on the lack of any response to the worst offense in all of professional baseball — majors or minors, all the way down to A-ball — it's hard to say they do.

Here's the full list of moves made this season by Neal Huntington and the front office to address the offense: Gorkys Hernandez, a toothpick of a bat in the minors, was recalled for this series. That's it. (He then sat all weekend while Nate McLouth's latest futility streak reached 19 at-bats and should have him in peril of being cut.)

You already know this is a terrible hitting team, obviously excluding McCutchen.

But did you know it's a terrible hitting organization?

The Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate is fresh off an astounding week in which the offense scored — wait for it — one run over six games. Not much hope there. On that roster, only outfielder Starling Marte could be called a legit everyday prospect among hitters.

It isn't any better at Double-A Altoona, where the only prospects in that category are outfielder Robbie Grossman and catcher Tony Sanchez, both currently below .250.

Help is desperately needed.

But it sure doesn't sound like it's coming.

Huntington has cited a litany of reasons why he is unable to upgrade the offense, and he reiterated some yesterday on his weekly radio show: Few trades are made in May. Two wild cards mean fewer sellers. The offers are lopsided. The Pirates don't want to give up pitching. They don't want to part with elite prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.

So, the hitting will wait until … what, 2014, 2015?

Maybe longer?

Consider this painful truth: McCutchen and Neil Walker, the Pirates' only regulars batting above .235, were acquired by Dave Littlefield. So was Marte.

What exactly do the Pirates have to show offensively for five years of Huntington's many moves that include $31 million on free-agent position players and $51 million on drafts?

The answer: Alvarez at the Mendoza Line, a handful of others keeping him company and a whole lot of crossed fingers.

That's not just disturbing for this year but for years to come.

Something must be done, and this is as good a time as any. The pitching won't get much better when Cole and Taillon arrive than the current 3.36 ERA that's No. 5 in the majors.

Claim guys off waivers.

Collect more minor league scrap like infielder Drew Sutton, added last night.

Hey, conduct open tryouts!

Better yet, be bold: I wouldn't push for a trade of Cole or Taillon, but I wouldn't rule it out, either. And I sure wouldn't worry about the top two levels. The Pirates will be seven starters deep once Jeff Karstens returns. In Indy, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke — promoted yesterday on an emergency basis — are banging down the door. That's plenty enough to trade without pain.

Look, I believe Huntington that a trade would be tough. But I've also believed him the many times he's said pitching is the most valuable commodity in the industry, especially prospects.

Is he offering enough?

Eight days ago, also on the radio show, Huntington said, “It's not like we're not trying.”

Sports is about results. And right now, the only acceptable result is to support McCutchen and this fine pitching staff by adding some bats.

They're laughably overdue.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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