Pirates offense thriving under hitting coaches Rick Eckstein, Jacob Cruz
On Tuesday afternoon, Clint Hurdle called Monday night’s 18-5 victory “one of the better days that a Pittsburgh lineup has had in its history.”
It was immediately after the 23-barrage against the Chicago Cubs that the Pittsburgh Pirates manager was asked about the role his team’s hitting coaches played in it.
“I’m a firm believer” said Hurdle, a former hitting coach, “that sometimes coaches get too much credit, and sometimes you get too much blame.”
But in evaluating an offense that ranks second in the National League in batting average (.268) and features a handful of players having career years, Hurdle quickly relented in regards to the praise the pair of first-year hitting coaches — Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz — is receiving.
“The credit is appropriate,” Hurdle said.
Monday’s win included the most runs in a game for the Pirates in 14 years, their most hits for a game in 40 years and their first duo — Adam Frazier and Colin Moran — with five hits in nine years. It helped put the spotlight on the job Eckstein and his assistant, Cruz, have done.
“They’ve attacked different things in different areas,” Hurdle said, “and that’s why they were brought in through a long interview process. Both of those guys gravitated to the top of our list because of what they brought. The experiences that they both had, the way they meshed, the forward thinking.”
New hitting coach Rick Eckstein, charged with changing the Pirates' philosophy in their preparation at the plate in an effort to increase extra-base hits, might be the most important addition of the offseason.https://t.co/oA3V4tYuTd via @TribLIVE
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) February 18, 2019
With an eye toward modernizing their offensive approach, the Pirates replaced Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey. Branson had been with the Pirates since 2013 Livesey was added a year later.
Eckstein, a former Washington Nationals hitting coach, and Cruz, who was a minor league hitting coach, are in their mid-40s. They are more likely than their predecessors to embrace today’s baseball hot buzzwords such as launch angle.
“I feel (Eckstein and Cruz) are pillars holding me up, foundational,” said Josh Bell, who hit three home runs Monday, giving him 25 on the season. “They’re not afraid to sit me down and talk baseball.”
Bell is an All-Star who ranked fourth in the NL in OPS (1.035) and first in the majors in RBIs (77) heading into Tuesday’s games. Last season, he finished with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs
In a half a season, Moran has almost equaled his home run total from 2018 — he has 10 after hitting 11 last year — and has improved his batting average and slugging percentage. Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds are having breakout rookie seasons, too.
Communication appears to be central in the relationship between Eckstein and Cruz and the players.
“When your swing’s going bad, you can really rely on them,” Moran said. “Which is huge.”
Frazier hit .176 over the second half of June before his 5-for-6 outing Monday that featured the first four-double game by a Pirate in 87 years. After Monday’s game, Frazier said he and Eckstein had been working closely together in recent days, focusing on catching the ball out in front of his swing.
Through it all, even if the former hitting coach inside of Hurdle appreciates the work Eckstein and Cruz are doing, the former player inside of Hurdle prefers to defer to the men standing in the batter’s box.
“There’s also a point in time you have to give the hitter some credit, too,” Hurdle said, “for taking it upon themselves and making some adjustments and continuing to learn throughout their career.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .