Pirates look to continue success in cross-country trips
Maybe the thrill of hitting two doubles and scoring twice in Thursday afternoon's 5-4 home win over the Chicago Cubs helped Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison in his mission to fight off sleep when the team plane landed in Phoenix later that night.
“If I'm tired at 10 p.m. their time, I'll force myself to stay up another two hours or so, that way I get kind of the same amount of sleep that I would here (in Pittsburgh),” Harrison said. “I try to stay up to allow my body to adjust to it.”
The Pirates' first trip of the season to the Pacific time zone required players, well-adjusted to the Eastern time zone after spending spring training in Florida and almost all of the regular season's first three weeks in Ohio or Pennsylvania, to use tricks to ready themselves for this weekend's three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Three trips to the Pacific time zone are on the docket for the Pirates this season, and they will aim to continue a rate of success out there that surpassed what they did on the road the last two seasons.
Last May, a trip to the West Coast for series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres led to five wins and two losses for the Pirates.
And in late July, the Pirates went 4-3 in back-to-back series with the San Francisco Giants and the Diamondbacks.
“Last year, the trip (to Arizona) proved to be beneficial for us,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I'd prefer to play 162 games here (in Pittsburgh), to be quite frank. But that's not the way it works. So you go on the road, and you figure out how to win games.”
The Pirates' 9-5 record at venues in the Pacific time zone — a 64.3 winning percentage — sat better with the team than its 37-44 overall mark on the road.
Apparently a three-hour difference from Pittsburgh is not much of a detriment for players.
“It's not like you're in Triple-A and leaving at 6, 7 in the morning, flying that day, getting to the hotel at 1 in the afternoon, and then you have to go play a 7 p.m. game,” said reliever Rob Scahill, who spent last season bouncing in and out of the Mountain time zone with the Colorado Rockies. “You get in the night before, and you get to sleep in a bed.”
Outfielder Corey Hart endured what arguably is Major League Baseball's most grueling annual travel schedule last year with the Seattle Mariners.
“That was hard because every flight was far,” Hart said. “But we had a nice plane, so you try to adjust to it.”
A trip to Arizona actually serves as a homecoming for Hart, who lives there in the offseason.
And as a bonus, Chase Field ranks among his favorite ballparks.
“It's a park like Coors Field with a dome,” Hart said.
“I wouldn't like to pitch there, but I'd definitely like to hit there all the time.”
Last year, the Diamondbacks' home field ranked as the second most hitter-friendly park in the MLB, according to ESPN's Park Factors database.
Hurdle sees no reason for his pitchers to stray from the team's throw-for-contact philosophy in Arizona, though.
The Pirates allowed 332 runs on the road last year, compared to 299 at PNC Park.
They have allowed at least 30 more runs in away games each of the last three seasons.
“Our guys are capable of pitching well in any park we go to,” Hurdle said. “We've shown that ability. It's just in certain parks, when you make mistakes, they can be deposited (in the stands) at lesser distances.”