Light-hitting Pirates lose again, 3-1, against Mets

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 3:05 p.m.

With nearly a third of the season done, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle knows his team's strengths.

“They are what we can do off the mound and defensively,” Hurdle said.

What's missing, of course, is offense. It's been absent all year, and was again Wednesday in a 3-1 loss against the New York Mets.

Although Hurdle wouldn't say it, it's clear things have reached the point where a shake-up is necessary. With no impact hitters in the upper levels of the farm system, the Pirates must look outside their organization for answers.

“For all you know, we've been looking for two weeks,” Hurdle said. “You're always trying to coach guys up, and we've given guys some time to right some things. But we've got to be open-minded.”

Not including pitcher Charlie Morton (2-5), the Pirates used 10 hitters against the Mets. Of those, seven have batting averages below .222.

It's not early anymore; it's seven weeks into the season. So, shouldn't there be a sense of urgency in the clubhouse about the low-wattage offense?

“I don't feel that, and I don't think that's an issue right now,” shortstop Clint Barmes said. “You look at our record, I don't see any reason to panic at this point. It's going to click offensively. I still believe that. We've got too much talent for it not to.”

Barmes went 2 for 3 against Mets left-hander Jon Niese and nudged his average up to .178. Barmes tweaked his approach recently; he is trying to let the ball go deeper into the zone. It's a tricky adjustment, with a split-second being the difference between success and failure.

In his first at-bat, Barmes waited an instant too late and the ball hit off the handle about an inch from his top hand. The result was a meek grounder to first base that stranded two runners.

“It wasn't a great pitch to try to swing at, but at least that was my mindset,” Barmes said.

Barmes singled in each of his next two at-bats. They were soft hits and did not lead to runs, yet were still signs of progress. Barmes has five hits in his past 11 at-bats.

“Sometimes, little things spark big things,” Hurdle said.

Perhaps. But little things continue to be the hallmark of the Pirates' attack.

Their lone run came in the sixth. Josh Harrison led off with a double and scored on Andrew McCutchen's single.

Harrison extended his hitting streak to a career-best nine games. He and McCutchen, who's batting .338, are the only threats in the lineup.

“The moment you put more pressure on yourself, you won't perform,” Harrison said. “You have to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax.”

In the eighth, Barmes singled and Gorkys Hernandez drew a two-out walk. An error moved the runners to second and third with McCutchen at the plate.

With first base open, reliever Bobby Parnell went after McCutchen and struck him out on a checked swing to snuff the threat. Later, McCutchen seemed nonchalant about the missed opportunity.

“I don't feel extra pressure, but it is expected of me to come through in those situations,” McCutchen said. “Oh well. Shake it off.”

Niese (3-2), who allowed eight earned runs in three innings to Toronto in his last start, limited the Pirates to one run and five hits in 7 23 innings. Eighteen of 23 outs he recorded were by groundball or strikeout.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7811.

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