Pirates' Harrison just warming up?
LOS ANGELES — It took almost three games and 126 plate appearances by Pirates batters before Josh Harrison stepped to the plate for the first time this month.
Harrison did not play in either game of the May 1 doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles. On May 2, he struck out pinch hitting in the eighth inning.
Since then, Harrison virtually has been an everyday player, and with good reason.
On May 3, Harrison started in right field against the Toronto Blue Jays at PNC Park. He went 2 for 5 with one RBI and scored two runs.
It was the first of 16 starts, including the past 11 in a row. Harrison entered Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers having hit safely in five of his previous seven games.
In his 18 starts this season, Harrison has batted .307 (23 for 75). His 20 hits in May are the most he's collected in any month in his career.
“The last two weeks we've been kidding him, saying, ‘Josh thinks he invented the game,' ” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Talk about a blast.”
Yet Harrison stopped short of calling this month his best stretch.
“That's kind of hard to say. I've been playing since I was 3,” Harrison said. “I wouldn't say it's the best. It's just baseball. You go through (hot) stretches. This is what I expect from myself.”
Harrison laughed when asked if the cliche about hot hitters — that the baseball looks like a beach ball coming to the plate — is true.
“It still looks like a baseball,” Harrison said. “I see it all the same. It's just a matter of not missing pitches when you get 'em. I'm seeing the ball pretty well and getting pitches out over the plate or wherever I can hit them. I'm putting a good swing on them and finding holes.”
Coming into this season — a span of 575 plate appearances — Harrison had a 2.6 percent walk rate, but his 12.3 percent strikeout rate helped make up for it.
This season, Harrison's walk rate has increased to 6.1 percent, but his whiff rate also has inched up to 15.3 percent.
Harrison puts a lot of balls in play. When he does, he has a career .278 batting average.
He also has added a touch more power. In 2011 and '12, Harrison's home run-to-fly ball ratios were 1.6 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. Last season, 11.5 percent of Harrison's fly balls went over the outfield wall. His rate this year is 11.1 percent.
His batting approach has evolved in other ways, too.
On Saturday, Hurdle gambled by batting Harrison leadoff against Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. It's the kind of pitcher — a power arm who likes to work up in the zone — Harrison has struggled against most of his career.
In his first at-bat, Harrison fouled out. Next, he chased high heat and struck out. Then Harrison began to lock in.
In his third at-bat, he whacked a fly ball that left fielder Nate McLouth snagged on the warning track by the North Side Notch. In his fourth at-bat, Harrison pounced on a changeup and lined an RBI single up the middle.
“He was just letting everybody know he's still on some things,” Hurdle said. “Pretty fun to watch.”