PITTSBURGH -- The team that plays in The Golden Triangle is still trying to complete its baseball triangle. The Pirates' pitching has been top-shelf and their defense tight. It's that third leg -- offense -- that keeps folding. How steady it becomes will define the Bucs' current ambiguous status.Three games under .500, entering Monday night's game against the Mets, but also merely three games out of the National League Central lead held by St. Louis. Vain tease, or catapult to the next level, starting with this nine-game homestand? "It definitely gives us confidence going forward, because it says a lot about how good our pitching has been," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Discussing what has held his club back has become a very trite subject for manager Clint Hurdle. But he, too, sensed that this homestand against the Mets, the Cubs and the Reds could signify time for his club to make its move, at least to the .500 mark. The Pirates will have to go 6-3 to get there. "Pitching has been the part of the engine that has gotten us here. The defense has been great in stretches. We have to do work on offense," Hurdle reiterated. "I've said this every day I've sat in this chair. "There's still too much anxiety, too much athletic chaos going on [in the batter's box]. We have to be realistic about how we can coach them up to be better. It's easy to complain about what's wrong; you have to help them get better." The contrast between the two sides of the ball couldn't be starker. Entering Monday night's game, the Pirates had the NL's fourth-best pitching staff (3.36 ERA) and dead-last hitting crew (.217). The yield has been virtually a non-stop sequence of tight games that Hurdle expects to be to the team's long-term benefit. "Last season prepared them for this season," he said. "Before that, they hadn't experienced many close games." Of this season's first 41 games, three have been decided by more than five runs. Only two seasons ago, 16 of the first 41 games fell into that "laugher" category.
Hot bat earns Harrison start in right for Bucs
PITTSBURGH -- Josh Harrison's expanding resume gained another new entry on Monday: Right field. That was the Pirates super-utility player's home in the starting lineup against Mets lefty Johan Santana.Harrison's first career appearance in right followed earlier starts at third, shortstop and second. Harrison also was the starting designated hitter in one of the weekend's Interleague games in Detroit, and has popped up in left as part of a late-game double-switch. Manager Clint Hurdle considered giving Gorkys Hernandez his big league baptismal against Santana, but concluded Harrison couldn't be denied. "It would've been the right fit for Gorkys, but Harrison is swinging the hot bat," Hurdle said. "He's had a very good week (8-for-22). I continue to look for opportunities to get him plugged in." The 24-year-old Cincinnati native is taking advantage of a new baseball order in which versatility rules. That hasn't always been the case; until expanded pitching staffs put the squeeze on benches, being known as a player without a position was considered a liability. "I can say from experience how that has changed," Harrison said. "Being able to play more than one position is how I got my call. It's a role I embrace; playing different positions can help the team. In Spring Training this year, they wanted me to add some outfield reps to see if I could add some value for days like this without it being totally foreign to me." However, Harrison indicated he hadn't played a game in right field since his days at the University of Cincinnati. Informed of that, Hurdle feigned relief and said, "I thought it was Little League. So I feel better already."
McCutchen appeals scoring decision on error
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen entered Monday night's game against the Mets batting .336 -- or maybe .343, depending on how Major League Baseball ultimately rules on his appeal of a scoring decision in Sunday's game in Detroit.That's the difference between upholding the call of an error on pitcher Octavio Dotel for boxing McCutchen's eighth-inning high bouncer, or conceding the player's side of it and having it changed. In the play in question, McCutchen's hard smash one-hopped over the head of Dotel, who reflexively raised his arms as the ball kissed off the tip of his glove. The ball stayed in the infield but there was no throw to first as McCutchen crossed the bag. McCutchen has had films of the play sent to MLB officials. "What have I got to lose? I did file an inquiry. I don't know how long it takes for a decision; guess it depends when they look at it," McCutchen said. The outfielder's decision to ask for a call-reversal may have been influenced by an earlier call during the Pirates' just-concluded road trip. On Thursday night in Washington, the Nationals' Danny Espinosa was credited with a double after his opposite-field drive to left field bounced off the outstretched glove of Jose Tabata.
Drew Sutton's very brief time in the Pirates organization ended Monday afternoon, when the corner infielder was dealt to the Rays for future player or cash considerations. The Bucs flipped Sutton after having acquired him the previous evening from the Braves, likewise for cash considerations. By playing errorless ball through the first two innings of Monday's game, the Pirates matched their longest errorless string of the season at 58 innings, earlier managed from April 21-28. Overall, the Bucs began play ranked 10th in the 16-team NL in defense. The Pirates have been picked on for this season's two highest "game scores" by starting pitchers: Matt Cain's 96 for his one-hit shutout of the Bucs on April 13, and Justin Verlander's 95 for his one-hit shutout last Friday. Only once in the post-1918 live-ball era have pitching teammates accomplished what the Bucs' Erik Bedard and James McDonald have already done this season: Notch 11 strikeouts while pitching less than six innings, as Bedard did on May 3 in St. Louis and McDonald on Thursday in Washington. In 2009, Yankees CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett pioneered that trick.
Jeff Karstens made a no-problem, efficient rehab start for Double-A Altoona on Monday, blanking Harrisburg on two hits through three innings, during which he made 37 pitches. Karstens repaired to the bullpen for eight more pitches to reach his target of 45. It was the first rehab outing for Kartstens, on the DL since April 18 with shoulder inflammation, and his next step will be determined later in the week.
Andrew McCutchen has 12 hits in his last 18 at-bats off southpaws and is hitting them at a .465 (20-for-43) clip for the season. He also raised his average in the month of May to .396, with seven homers and 14 RBIs in games.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.