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Pirates notebook: Hurdle says stranding runners a concern

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The Pirates' Garrett Jones reacts after striking out against Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay during the first inning Wednesday, April 24, 2013, in Philadelphia.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The Pirates were 0 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the first two games against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, and before Wednesday's matchup manager Clint Hurdle said it's something that needs to improve.

“We remind the guys that when there are runners in scoring position there are two ways to look at it: Either I have to get them in, or the pitcher's in trouble and I need to get a good pitch to hit,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, the guy on the mound is that good that he's able to shut things down, but we've had more than our fair share of opportunities where our results could have played out better.”

Following Tuesday's 0-for-13 performance, the Pirates were batting .226 with runners in scoring position (12th in the National League) and just .216 with runners in scoring position and two outs (11th in the NL).

A particular point of contention has been with batters taking called third strikes with runners on base. Hurdle believes other teams have pinpointed that as a potential vulnerability the same way they would watching video and scouting reports on teams that sit soft with two strikes.

The trend continued in the first inning Wednesday. Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen both struck out looking at fastballs with Starling Marte on second base. Garrett Jones watched a curve for strike three with Marte on third.

“That's my question to them, because why do you think we're continually getting pitched fastballs with two strikes, even with runners in scoring position?” he said. “Because that's what the other people are picking up. That might not be your mindset going out there, but now it's the perception of the league so they're going to continue to attack that way until you counterpunch.”

Making progress

Hurdle said the scouting reports from special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict and Double-A Altoona pitching coach Stan Kyles on Charlie Morton's outing Tuesday were excellent. ... Francisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch five innings (80 pitches) Thursday for Triple-A Indianapolis, six innings (90 pitches) Tuesday and 100 pitches May 5, which puts him in line for a start with the Pirates on May 10 at the New York Mets. … Jeff Karstens will pitch a simulated game Friday in St. Louis.

Hughes working on sinker

It didn't take long for the Pirates' staff to determine why Jared Hughes has been tagged for four runs and seven hits in his last four outings, spanning 3 23 innings. A pitcher who thrives with his sinker wasn't throwing it enough. Hughes agreed, and he is working to refine the pitch.

“It's one of those things where it moves a lot, so if I'm not really aggressive with it in the strike zone then it's going to be a ball, so I need to attack the zone,” he said. “It's physical in that I have to get used to doing it, and at the same time it's a decision where I really have to commit to doing it.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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