PITTSBURGH -- Pressed again to explain the team's prolonged problems throwing out baserunners, manager John Russell reiterated on Saturday that the area of deficiency continues to be a major point of emphasis.
The Astros swiped two more bases off the Pirates on Friday, giving opponents 81 against Pittsburgh this season. Catchers Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo haven't had a chance at throwing out all of those runners, but of the 78 throws the pair have made, only 10 have resulted in a runner being caught.
That accounts for a success rate of just 12.8 percent, the lowest in the Majors.
"Obviously, there are some issues that we are working through," Russell said. "The biggest thing is trying to get our pitchers more aware of it. It's been a big emphasis since Day 1. We're going to continue to push it. We've got to make sure that we get better at holding runners and throwing them out."
The fault, as Russell alluded to, lies with both the catchers and pitchers. Doumit, the primary catcher, has caught just five of the 61 attempts (eight percent) made with him behind the plate. Last season, Doumit threw out 28 percent of the runners going against him and 21 percent in 2008.
There are a few factors, Russell said, that could be affecting Doumit's proficiency in this area. The Pirates would like his footwork -- when coming out of his crouch to throw -- to be shorter. They'd also like his release to not be so long. The fact that Doumit has struggled in this area all year appears to also be affecting the trust he has in his ability.
"Ryan has just been erratic," Russell said. "I think he's had some opportunities to throw some guys out and he'll just miss. There are some times that he doesn't have a chance. It gets to the point, too, where guys are running and you try to do too much, and his accuracy tends to go out the window a little bit, too."
When it comes to the pitching staff, Russell noted the need for some of the team's pitchers -- he singled out Zach Duke and Paul Maholm -- to do a better job of altering their delivery and varying how long they hold the ball before releasing it. Too consistent of a motion has allowed baserunners to be too exact in timing their jumps.
"We're continuing to emphasize to the pitchers that it's not a robotic thing," Russell said. "[Jeff] Karstens is good at holding runners and varying his deliveries. [Brad] Lincoln has done a good job with it. Ross [Ohlendorf] is starting to vary his times to the plate."
To date, Karstens has allowed just three stolen bases (six attempts), while Duke has allowed six in seven attempts and Maholm has given up four in five attempts. Ohlendorf has allowed the most, with 13 of the 14 runners attempting to steal on him being successful.
All of these objectives are not only being taught at the Major League level, but they are also a part of the program that is implemented at each Minor League level.
Kratz shines in Major League debut
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager John Russell wasted no time getting Erik Kratz his first taste of the Major Leagues by inserting the roster's newest addition into Saturday's starting lineup. The night turned out to be much more than a get-your-feet-wet-type game for Kratz, as he collected a bunch of big league firsts in the Pirates' 12-6 win over the Astros at PNC Park.
Hitless in his first two at-bats and playing in front of about 30 family members and friends, Kratz delivered a sharp single to right-center in his third at-bat. The hit turned out to be key in Pittsburgh's win, too, as it was the second of four straight fifth-inning, two-out singles that pushed the Pirates back in front for good.
Kratz smiled as he was greeted by first-base coach Carlos Garcia. And as his family celebrated along the first-base line, Kratz's father could be seen yelling, 'Get the ball! Get the ball!'
Don't worry. Kratz did.
Asked to describe his own emotions as he saw the ball fall in, Kratz, quite simply, couldn't. He let the question soak in, paused, grinned, looked around.
"Just," Kratz began, before stopping for a few more seconds.
"Is that a good enough answer?" he added. "I honestly don't know how to put it into words."
Kratz came around to score the go-ahead run in that fifth inning, but his highlights were hardly over there. Not only did the 30-year-old catcher get to savor a win in his first Major League game, but he also drove in a run in his final at-bat of the evening. Kratz also joked about how the game was the perfect introduction to the team's pitching staff, as he worked with seven different pitchers to get through the nine-inning contest.
"He handled himself behind the plate," Russell said. "It was fun. I know he was having a blast."
Russell's decision to start Kratz, who was called up from Triple-A to begin the second half, on Saturday was two-fold. He didn't want Kratz to endure an extended stint on the bench immediately after being called up, and Russell also liked the idea of giving Ryan Doumit a night off with the quick turnaround to Sunday's day game.
"I just thought tonight would be a good night to get him in there," Russell said. "When we get guys called up, I try to get them in there really quickly. I don't want them to sit around too long before they get their first taste of it, especially the position players."
Kratz hit .296 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 56 Triple-A games this season. His big league debut came a little more than eight years after he was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
Pirates in multirun homer drought
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' streak of at-bats without hitting a multirun homer has reached 1,034 after the club was unable to break the pesky trend with a long ball on Friday night.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Pittsburgh owns the longest such streak since the 1984 Astros went 1,252 at-bats in between hitting a home run with a runner on base.
The last Pirates player to go deep with someone on was Delwyn Young, who connected for a two-run homer off Washington's Stephen Strasburg in the fourth inning of a June 8 game. Pittsburgh has played 31 games and hit 16 solo homers since.
As a team, the Pirates rank 15th out of 16 National League teams with 59 homers this season.
Manager John Russell and his wife, Jamie, will host the second-annual Pirates Fabulous Casino Night on Sunday. The event, which is sponsored by Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack, will begin at 7 p.m. ET in the PNC Park Lexus Club. All proceeds raised from the event will benefit Pirates Charities and the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Pennsylvania. ... Until this season, the Pirates have never lost the first seven games played against the Astros in any single season. ... Left-hander Jeff Locke pitched five scoreless innings in his Double-A debut on Friday. Locke allowed four hits and struck out five in the outing. ... First baseman Matt Curry, the Pirates' 16th-round Draft pick last month, had a 12-game hitting streak snapped with short-season State College on Friday. Since signing with the organization, Curry has hit .380 with eight doubles, one homer and 11 RBIs in 13 games.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.