Pirates win 5th straight as offense continues to click in win over Marlins
Frequently in April, the Pirates' counted-upon hitters cringed when they noticed a swarm of reporters headed their way.
Questions about slumps usually followed.
There's been few looks of dread on the Pirates' faces lately when the time to discuss offense arises.
A team that ranked among the MLB's worst in on-base percentage through the first month of the season continued to roll Tuesday as the Pirates jumped on Miami Marlins rookie Jose Urena early in their 5-1 win at PNC Park.
The Pirates scored four-plus runs for the fifth straight game, and their victory moved them above .500 for the third time this season. Their five consecutive wins ties a season high.
“This isn't some new thing that they've unwrapped,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We need a commitment from everyone ... to hit that way, to perform that way.
“Tonight you see (Josh) Harrison give us a start early. (Neil) Walker hits an opposite field hit. (Starling) Marte with a double. (Jung Ho) Kang throws something in again. All of them found a way to play.”
All nine batters in the starting lineup, including pitcher Jeff Locke, reached base at least once through five innings. The last player to get on base, No. 6 hitter Pedro Alvarez, poked an opposite-field, two-out RBI single to chase Urena and increase the Pirates' lead to 5-0.
Locke continued the Pirates' string of quality starts. He struck out six, walked four and allowed four hits during a scoreless 5 2⁄3 innings.
“You never want to feel like that weakest link out there,” said Locke, who has not allowed a run in his last 10 2⁄3 innings. “You just want to keep it going as long as you can.”
Urena, a right-hander who was called up for his first career start earlier in the day, lasted just 4 2⁄3 innings. He allowed 10 hits and five runs.
A Marlins mound meeting followed Neil Walker's two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the second, which increased the Pirates' lead to 4-0. Walker laced a ball the opposite way and just inside the left-field foul pole to drive home himself and Harrison, who doubled to deep right-center field one at-bat earlier.
Harrison's double scored Jordy Mercer.
Two-out offense also came in the first, when Kang drove a single up the middle to score Harrison.
“Whether you're a rookie or a 15-year vet, you always want to jump out on them early,” Harrison said. “That's what makes this game so hard. You've got guys who pitch for years in the big leagues, and you get them early, and it doesn't phase them sometimes. A younger guy, it takes some time for them to get some composure.”
The Pirates entered Tuesday's game with at team OBP of .329 in May, which was eighth best in the league. In April, their OBP of .280 tied the Philadelphia Phillies for second worst.
A similar recovery occurred last year, when the Pirates went from a .296 OBP in March and April to a .347 mark in May.
Few players needed to turn their production around as the months turned this time more than Harrison.
Minutes before the final game of the Pirates' last homestand, a 4-3 win over St. Louis, general manager Neal Huntington said he believed Harrison had begun trying too much to justify his contract.
Harrison's batting average slipped to .173, and his OBP fell to .209 that day. His slump, which began in mid-April and extended into the first week of May, led Hurdle to move him from the leadoff spot down to the bottom half of the order.
Then Harrison hit the road, rediscovered what worked, and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the order from the recently struggling Gregory Polanco.
Two hits in Harrison's first two at-bats Tuesday helped raise his average to .261 and his OBP to .284.
“Our pitchers have done a great job all year,” Harrison said. “We just want to give them some run support and make their job a little easier.”