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

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 3:05 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Charlie Morton's season-ending injury will test the Pirates' pitching depth. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Gorkys Hernandez tosses his bat after striking out against the Mets on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen reacts after striking out with two runners in scoring position during the eighth inning against the Mets Wednesday May 23, 2012 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen strikes out with two runners in scoring position during the eighth inning against the Mets Wednesday May 23, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen reacts after striking out with two runners in scoring position during the eighth inning against the Mets Wednesday May 23, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
New York Mets' David Wright strikes out swinging against Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Mets closer Frank Francisco, right, hugs catcher Rob Johnson (16) after striking out Pittsburgh Pirates' Rob Barajas for the final out of the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker waits for a teammate to bring him his hat and glove after grounding into an inning-ending double play during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets in Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stands at the dugout railing during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets in Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, rear, can't handle the toss from shortstop Ronny Cedeno allowing Pittsburgh Pirates' Casey McGhee (14) to advance to second on a fielder's choice hit by Pirates' Yamaico Navarro during the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Mets closer Frank Francisco, right, strikes out Pittsburgh Pirates' Rob Barajas for the final out of the ninth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1 with Francisco getting his 12th save. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen takes off his batting equipment after striking out with two men on base to end the eighth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets in Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pirates' Gorkys Hernadez, right, slides back to first as a pick off throw from New York Mets catcher Rob Johnson gets past first baseman Ike Davis (29) during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Hernandez advanced to second on the error charged to Johnson. The Mets won 3-1.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pirates' Josh Harrison (5) is greeted by teammate Neil Walker as he returns to the dugout after scoring the Pirates only run on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen off New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The Mets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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 rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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