Pirates notebook: Sacrifice flies have been scarce for Bucs

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, July 21, 2013, 5:51 p.m.

CINCINNATI — All the Pirates needed to send Saturday's game into extra innings was a fly ball.

With the Pirates trailing by a run in the ninth inning, Andrew McCutchen, one of the speediest players in the league, was on third base with none out. Any medium-depth fly ball would give McCutchen a chance to sprint home with the tying run.

It didn't happen. Russell Martin hit an infield popup, Michael McKenry struck out and the Pirates wound up with a 5-4 loss. Then again, maybe the odds were against them all along. In 423 combined plate appearances this season, neither Martin nor McKenry has hit a sacrifice fly.

They're not alone. The Pirates have just 12 sacrifice flies this year, by far the lowest number in the majors. They have no chance of catching the National League-leading Cincinnati Reds (34 sac flies) and will struggle merely to match the Chicago Cubs (17) and Miami Marlins (14).

“We haven't done the job we've needed to do,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Our guys are aware of it.”

The Pirates have not scored a run on a sacrifice fly since June 14 when McCutchen came home after Neil Walker fouled out to Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

The last time the Pirates hit a run-scoring sac fly to the outfield was May 27 when McCutchen drove a liner to right field. Since then, the Pirates have gone 1,609 plate appearances without an outfield sac fly.

“It's not a stat I keep track of, but this is probably one of the longest droughts I've had on a club, as a player, manager or coach,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle said the problem is more that the Pirates are blowing opportunities with runners on third than not creating chances in the first place. There's an art, he said, to hitting a sacrifice fly.

“It's a selfless thing,” Hurdle said. “I've played for managers who wanted you to be instinctive. If the infield's back, look for a ball down and hit it on the ground. If the infield's in, look for a ball up and bang it to the outfield. We've tried to simplify things for our guys: look for a ball that's up that you can hit hard, and let the trajectory take it where it needs to go.”

Let's make a deal

Everyone in the industry knows it's been two decades since the Pirates last went to the playoffs. So it wouldn't be surprising if other teams jacked up their trade demands, expecting the Pirates to be desperate for a deal.

“People are always going to try to leverage a deal to the best of their ability,” Hurdle said.

General manager Neal Huntington didn't deny that some clubs might have unrealistic expectations but added that it doesn't happen often.

“We as a group can posture with the best of them,” Huntington said. “Maybe those that don't know me all that well might throw that out there with the hopes that maybe it does have an impact. Those who do know me pretty well know it won't have an impact, so they don't bother.”

More trade musings

Huntington said he has the flexibility to add payroll “within reason” at the trade deadline but did not elaborate.

Huntington chuckled when asked whether “mystery teams” — such as the “unidentified National League club” that popped up in Matt Garza trade rumors last week — ever actually exist.

“Probably about as often as there's a mystery team in free-agent negotiations,” Huntington said. “We know the players we want, and we know what we're willing to give up for them. We're willing to stretch a lot on some guys and not so much on others. We recognize we're going to have to give up more than we want to. We can't be foolish about it.”

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

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