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Sports

Pirates' defensive effectiveness picking up

| Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker fields a ground ball at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker fields a ground ball at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Pirates can't hit the ball, but they are doing a decent job of catching and throwing it of late.

The punchless Pirates, who open a series with the Cubs today at PNC Park, have committed one error in the past nine games. They strung together 72 consecutive innings without a miscue — snapped by Pedro Alvarez's two-out blunder that allowed a run to score in a 3-2 loss to the Mets on Tuesday — to match their longest errorless streak in nearly three years.

In late April, the Pirates put together 58 23 innings without an error.

Despite the club still ranking in the bottom half of the MLB in fielding percentage (.982), the sloppiness is easing.

“We have to (play good defense) in order to win games,” said center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who has one error in 41 games. “We definitely have to take advantage in that aspect of the game.”

Said Garrett Jones (.994 fielding percentage), “We definitely take a lot of pride in our defense. We work hard, doing all the little things. It's been showing.”

The consistent, sure-handed fielding — plus the occasional highlight-reel play — provides a steady line of defense for a pitching staff that ranked fourth in the majors in team ERA (3.33) entering Thursday night's games.

“We are good defensively,” reliever Jason Grilli said. “For sure.”

They can be better. Alvarez has committed nine errors, the most by any third baseman, and base-stealers fare better against the Pirates (.876 success rate) than any other team.

Only three Pirates have been charged with more than two errors — Alvarez, shortstop Clint Barmes (six) and pitcher Charlie Morton (three).

Neil Walker hasn't committed an error in 30 games, dating to April 20, and ranks among the top NL second basemen in virtually every defensive category. Catchers Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry have combined for two errors in 387 innings. Pirates outfielders have two errors, one each from McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

“We have guys who have sure hands,” said Barajas, who owns a .991 fielding percentage. “That helps you so much as a pitching staff. You don't feel like you have to pitch away from contact. You want these guys to put the ball in play so you can let your guys do their thing.”

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jgrupp@tribweb.com or 412-320-7930.

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