Pirates notebook: Facing lefties rare occurrence
CHICAGO — The Pirates can't wait to face Chicago Cubs left-hander Travis Wood on Thursday.
“We are because after that it looks like another nine straight right-handers,” manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday. “We haven't seen a lot of lefties. Last year, we saw the fewest of any team in baseball. We're on pace to be that team again.”
Wood will be the first southpaw starter the Pirates have faced this year. Last season, they went up against only 31 left-handers.
The Pirates open this season with 26 consecutive games against NL Central clubs. Combined, those four opponents have two lefties in their rotations: Wood and Cincinnati's Tony Cingrani.
“Regardless of whether it's a righty or a lefty, our approach at the plate is going to stay the same,” hitting coach Jeff Branson said.
The starting lineup usually stays the same, too. That's a big reason Gaby Sanchez, Clint Barmes and Jose Tabata each has made just one start.
“The couple of situations where we do have guys coming in in situations late in the game, whether it be Sanchez or Tabata, they need to get what they can,” Hurdle said.
Josh Harrison, another right-handed batter, is the only player on the team who hasn't started a game. Harrison, Barmes, Sanchez and Tabata are hitting a combined .207 (6 for 29).
Second baseman Neil Walker, a switch-hitter, has struggled in the past from the right side. However, Hurdle is encouraged by Walker's approach in four plate appearances against left-handers this year.
“I think he's established some momentum from that side,” Hurdle said. “He's not a guy who I think needs to be unplugged right away.”
Keep it tight
Five of the Pirates' first seven games were decided by one-run margins, and they won four of them. Last season, they went 29-23 in one-run games.
“We've been a one-run club since I've been here, pretty much,” Hurdle said. “We pitch and play defense. When you do that, more often than not, that's where you're going to end up. We're in the upper tier of pitching, so the run-scoring by the opposition is in check for us. Offensively, we try to muster up what we can.”
Just because a team plays a lot of close games, it doesn't necessarily mean it's not scoring any runs.
“I challenged these men in my first spring training that all we've got to do is score one more run than the other team and we'll win the game,” Hurdle said. “They've taken it to heart in a lot of different ways. Last year, we had 10-9 wins and 7-6 wins. We had a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 wins, too. It's just kind of who we are. That's become our comfort zone. It's not, ‘Oh, no. This is a tight game.' That's kind of where we live.”
Two's not enough
Right-hander Charlie Morton threw only two split-changeups Tuesday against the Cubs. He worked six innings, gave up five runs and eight hits, and got a no-decision.
“I'd like to use it more,” Morton said of the split-change. “I don't want to be essentially a two-pitch (curveball, fastball) pitcher. If I locate well and I'm executing, I can get away with it, but you still have to be that much better.”
Locke in action
Left-hander Jeff Locke (right side strain) made his first a rehab outing with High-A Bradenton against Palm Beach (Cardinals) at McKechnie Field on Wednesday. Locke went six innings (82 pitches/59 strikes), allowed two runs, five hits and one walk. He struck out 10. He gave up a solo homer to left-handed batter David Washington.
First baseman Andrew Lambo was hitless in his first eight at-bats this season at Triple-A Indianapolis then got three hits Tuesday in a doubleheader. ... Outfielder Gregory Polanco is riding a five-game hitting streak and has reached base in all six of Indy's games. ... Through Tuesday, third baseman Brent Morel was 7 for 18, including two doubles and a homer, with five RBIs for Indy.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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