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Kovacevic: Let's see Pirates' bats do their part

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 9:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker strikes out with the bases loaded against the Diamondbacks during the sixth inning Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Jose Tabata makes a diving catch to rob the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt during the third inning Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen makes a leaping catch to rob the Diamondbacks' Gerardo Parra during the second inning Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez watches his home run against the Diamondbacks during the third inning Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte reacts to being hit by a pitch against the Diamondbacks during the sixth inning Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.

Jeff Locke looks like a kid who could use a break, huh?

In a month's time, he's gone from an All-Star sharing space atop the ERA leaders with Clayton Kershaw to … well, whatever nonprofane words you'd use to describe his latest dud Saturday at PNC Park — eight runs, 10 hits, three walks, zero command — in the Pirates' deflating 15-5 loss to the Diamondbacks.

Tough going.

Funny thing, though. Locke isn't the starter who concerns me most.

Rather, it's the opponent.

It's always the opponent.

Arizona's pitcher on this night, Trevor Cahill, was coming off a 45-day stint on the disabled list. His hip had been bruised by a line drive in May and, thus, his mechanics were thrown into a Mitch Williams level of chaos. In the eight starts before being shut down, he was 0-6 with a 7.91 ERA.

This guy was a punching bag waiting to happen Saturday.

Except it didn't happen.

Sure, Pedro Alvarez crushed a three-run shot over the Clemente Wall in the third to cut the deficit to 8-4. Starling Marte had a solo shot earlier that inning. But Cahill still stuck around through five, allowing nothing else.

It was hardly decisive, I know. But the broader scope is that the same fate could have — maybe should have — befallen Cahill as Locke. And that it would be welcome if such a thing occurred more than once a blue moon.

Here's a fantastic figure: The Pirates have chased the opposing starter in fewer than five innings only 13 times all season. Remove two outings cut short by rain delay, and that's down to 11.


Here's another: The Pirates are 63-17 when they score a mere three runs or more.


As in, one big bop per game, and this is a .788 ballclub!

It's not asking a ton, is it?

“We have to do more. We know that,” Jose Tabata was saying in a mostly silent clubhouse after this one. “The pitchers, maybe they get a little bit tired. We understand. They go out there every day and do such a good job. It's up to us on offense to help. We need to do it.”

He's right all around, of course.

The pitching is wearing down, and it isn't just Locke. A.J. Burnett has blown up with ugly innings his past two times out. Gerrit Cole is having his innings restricted. Charlie Morton is inconsistent. Wandy Rodriguez is anything but a sure thing in rehab. Even Francisco Liriano had the 10-run aberration last week.

In turn, a bullpen that's been badly overworked most of the summer is having to find yet another pain threshold.

If the Pirates are going to make it to the finish line as bona fide playoff material rather than backing in, the hitting needs to do its fair share. Maybe more, actually.

I'm not pointing at any one culprit, either: Tabata appeared to lose his job last week to Andrew Lambo only to continue a 13-for-32 August with two more hits Saturday. Garrett Jones, the other focal point in this regard, is at .178 for the month, but even he can't be isolated. When you see how Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Marte have picked it up at the top of the order and it still isn't enough, all hands need to get on deck.

The overall numbers don't lie: This offense ranks 24th of 30 teams in the majors with 476 runs, 20th with a .246 batting average, 19th with a .313 on-base percentage, 18th with 117 home runs and, yeah, third-worst with 1,034 strikeouts.

Where's that big surge, like the one last June when the Pirates were No. 1 in the majors with pretty much the same lineup?

For that matter, where's any trace of improvement under new hitting coach Jay Bell compared to the robustly underqualified Gregg Ritchie last season?

There isn't a ton of offensive talent on the roster, but there's more here than to sit in the bottom quadrant of baseball.

“No question, we can be doing more,” Jones said. “It's a matter of getting a bunch of guys hot and doing it together.”

Or maybe Neal Huntington should have snapped up Justin Morneau, the Twins' first baseman and 2006 American League MVP, when Morneau somehow cleared waivers last week.

Huntington still could, actually. Morneau is hardly MVP caliber anymore, but he's only 32, he's in the midst of his best month in three years — .268, six home runs, 15 RBI — and he'd certainly be an upgrade over this version of Jones. It would cost the Pirates a prospect or two, no doubt, plus paying the $4 million Morneau is due the rest of this year, but it's worth discussing at the least.

Wade Miley is Arizona's Sunday starter. He's got a 3.93 ERA for the season but 2.01 over the past eight starts.

Over/under on innings pitched?

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