05/29/12 7:44 PM ET
Hurdle giving Barmes break to work on swing
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Bucs pitchers exemplifying rising trend in K's
PITTSBURGH -- The jump in the rate at which Pirates pitchers are piling up strikeouts has received a lot of attention and been explained in a variety of ways.
Led by James McDonald's emergence to join veteran put-away aces A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard, the Bucs were averaging 7.32 strikeouts every nine innings heading into Tuesday's game, by far a record pace for a franchise that has had only one other staff hit 7.0 (1969).To Clint Hurdle, it's all about the younger pitchers putting their experience to use. "They know what they have to do with two strikes, and that's not to go to 'show' pitches," the manager said. "They have the aggressive mentality to put batters away." To pitching coach Ray Searage, Bedard and Burnett showed the way for an erstwhile pitch-to-contact staff and "everyone else is feeding off them, which is great." To one of the principals -- Jason Grilli, who has 33 punchouts in 18 innings -- it's "just going for it when I got two strikes on the guy, without holding anything back." All good theories, all overlooking possibly the best explanation of all: The Pirates are merely falling in line with a Major League trend of escalating strikeouts; after all, they are pitching against the same guys as everyone else and are ranked 17th in the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings. Majors-wide, the 30 clubs are striking out 7.4 men per nine innings, which at the end of the season would also be an all-time record, topping the old mark of 7.1 set last season. Furthermore, that 0.3 jump is the largest from one season to the next since 1985-86, when the rate went from 5.4 to 5.9.
Up next for the trio of right-handers on the DL: Jeff Karstens (shoulder inflammation) will have a five-inning or 80-pitch rehab outing Thursday in Indianapolis versus Durham; Chris Leroux (strained pectoral muscle) will pitch two innings in a Pirate City extended spring training game on Saturday; Daniel McCutchen (strained left oblique) has begun throwing and is slated to throw a bullpen session next week. The Bucs began play Tuesday with two errors in their last 13 games and the Majors' best fielding percentage (.996) in that stretch. Defensive stats are often misleading for not taking range into account, but that baker's dozen actually includes numerous plays on certifiably tough chances. Jordy Mercer's arrival means there are three selections in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft on the current roster: Pedro Alvarez (first round, second overall), Mercer (third) and Matt Hague (ninth). The value of pitching: In their recent 12-game losing streak, the Chicago Cubs scored an average of 2.75 runs per game. For the season, before Tuesday's game, the Pirates averaged one-quarter run more -- and had a .500 record (24-24).
"Mercer! Stop talking and get dressed! You're here to play ball, not to give interviews."
-- Neil Walker, with mock indignation, to rookie Jordy Mercer, too busy granting a series of interviews to change into his brand-new No. 69 Pirates uniform.
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.