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Offensive woes nothing new for Pirates

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Pirates' Jose Tabata strikes out as Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis walks off the field Saturday, April 6, 2013.

PHOENIX — The Pirates got off to an awful start a year ago. They wasted good pitching performances by failing miserably at the plate. At times, merely making contact seemed impossible. They lost four of their first six games, including a three-game sweep at Los Angeles.

This season has been strikingly similar — only worse.

The Pirates limped away from Dodger Stadium on Sunday with a 1-5 record, their worst start since 2006. The starting and relief pitchers have been solid, but the offense has been more abysmal than last year's.

They have 21 hits, only six more than the major league leader, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. There are three players with more RBI than the Pirates team — including the O's Chris Davis, who has more than doubled their output with 17 RBI.

The Pirates' .348 on-base plus slugging percentage is the worst in the majors and is 163 points lower than the next-worst team, the Chicago Cubs.

“Nobody's going to panic,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Nobody is afraid. They want to compete. They want the challenge.”

The Pirates have squandered excellent pitching. They rank among the top five teams in the big leagues in team ERA (2.82), WHIP (1.02) and opponents batting average (.203).

“Our pitching has been fantastic,” hitting coach Jay Bell said. “I know that, as a hitter, the tendency is to press a little bit when you see one of your teammates doing so well. You want to do well for them, but sometimes that ends up being counterproductive because you press.”

Staff ace A.J. Burnett ranks second in the National League with 19 strikeouts, but the Pirates haven't scored a run while he's been on the mound in either of his two starts.

“I don't worry about run support; that's beyond my control,” Burnett said. “You get in trouble when you start pointing fingers or making excuses.”

Bell and Hurdle have resisted any urge to ask hitters to radically rework their swings as this slump deepens.

“Adjustments are talked about, sometimes on a daily basis — not with everybody, and little things,” Hurdle said. “We tell them to trust their approach, trust the drill work and then just play the game. Don't become mechanical. The challenge of it is not letting the mechanical aspect of it seep in once you put your foot in the batter's box.”

One thing Hurdle added to the pregame routine this year is what he's called a “one-minute coach-up” in the team meeting before the start of each series.

“Every coach has one minute to coach up something positive that happened for an individual or the team in the last series,” Hurdle said. “And then we coach forward about something we'd like to see done in this series. Communication needs to be clear, accurate and not forced, not with a sense of urgency. We're trying to be very methodical with how we're doing it — not reactive, but proactive. That will get us the results we need to get.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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