06/30/12 8:00 PM ET
'Effortless power' leading to uptick in homers
By Mike Still / MLB.com
However, if you consider when those homers were hit and when those runs have crossed the plate, that's when things get interesting.
With Pedro Alvarez's first-inning grand slam in Saturday's 7-3 win over the Cardinals, the Pirates hit a National League-leading 39 homers this month, and trail only the Yankees and the Blue Jays for the most in the Majors. It's the most homers in June since the 1999 club homered 38 times. The Pirates also tied the club record for homers in June, a number that stood since 1975.
They also lead the Majors with 146 runs this month -- the highest run total the Pirates have scored in a month since plating 148 in May 2008.
"You look now and spread it over three months, it all makes a little sense," manager Clint Hurdle said of his club's power surge. "You package into one month, you go, 'Woah.' But the two month's drought before, that makes you go 'woah' as well. So I think for me, it was going to come. I believed it would come. It's come this month. It's come hard. It's come heavy."
The Pirates scored 147 runs in their first 50 games. And while the club's power this month has been eye-opening, Hurdle called how few runs they scored early in the season "astronomical" as well.
Pittsburgh homered four times in a 14-5 win over St. Louis on Friday, including three in the sixth inning. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen added his 15th of the season in the ninth. McCutchen has hit all 15 of his homers since May 8, and his 26 RBIs in June rank second in NL.
McCutchen said he and his teammates haven't been doing anything differently. Things are just starting to fall into place.
"It's starting to click for guys, and guys are putting good swings on good balls, starting to score a lot more runs," McCutchen said. "It's good to see what we're capable of doing day in and day out. Just being patient and staying within ourselves and not trying to do too much."
Hurdle has noticed his team is more confident these days, and his players are feeding off each other.
"Right now the hitting part of is kind of contagious and the power has become kind of contagious," Hurdle said. 'If you'll talk to these guys right now, the beauty for me is to watch the swings they're taking to hit home runs. Right now, you're seeing effortless power, before you were seeing powerless effort."
Pirates to rest Lincoln for remainder of series
ST. LOUIS -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Saturday morning that reliever Brad Lincoln will not pitch again this weekend against the Cardinals.
Lincoln threw three shutout innings against St. Louis on Friday in his second straight relief appearance. Hurdle said Lincoln resting is a part of the plan for the righty to transition into a relief role after making four straight starts this month.
"He's not a computer chip. He's a human being," Hurdle said of Lincoln. "The transitions have been a lot. We're trying to keep it really simple in how we're going to use him."
Hurdle said Lincoln will not throw back-to-back days if he throws a complete inning in relief. Lincoln is however encouraged to throw more than an inning, and the Pirates will try to stretch him for three innings as he did on Friday.
Lincoln threw 33 pitches on Friday -- 23 of them for strikes -- while striking out four. Lincoln had struck out fewer than four batters in three of his five starts this season. He also singled and scored a run in the 14-5 Pirates victory.
"I was definitely wearing down out there," Lincoln said on Friday when asked if he could have gone another inning. "The humidity was wearing on me. I probably could have went out there and finished the game off, but it was time."
Lincoln has made 15 relief appearances, posting a 2-0 record, 0.38 ERA and a .157 opponents' batting average. In five starts, Lincoln owns a 6.08 ERA with opponents batting .299 off him. He's given up six homers in 23 2/3 innings as a starter, and just one in 24 innings as a reliever.
Smart, aggressive at-bats resulting in success
ST. LOUIS -- It's not necessarily about being more patient at the plate. Just smarter.
On Friday, the Pirates bounced St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright from the game after five innings and 100 pitches. They also tagged the Cardinals' struggling bullpen for seven runs in four innings, including Pedro Alvarez's bases-loaded walk in the eighth against Sam Freeman.
As Bucs center fielder Andrew McCutchen noted, he and his teammates weren't trying to work counts. They were instead just looking for the best pitch to hit, and ultimately collected a season-high 19 hits.
"Know the situation, know who you're facing and know what they're trying to do to get you out," McCutchen said. "It's just about knowing a lot of things and being smart at the plate, other than being patient, and at the same time, being aggressive."
Manager Clint Hurdle, however, was happy to see his club getting deep into counts and thinks that disciplined approach will be important as Pittsburgh can continue to attack St. Louis' relievers the rest of the weekend.
"The one thing we want to do this series is continue to make people work," Hurdle said on Saturday. "The hard side of that is when you take strike one and they pound strike zone, you better be swinging the bat. But we believe that will be one of the keys to success for us this series. If we can spike the starters' pitch count, then we can get to the bullpen."
Hurdle made a few changes to his lineup on Saturday. Drew Sutton, who led off for the past two games, was out after going 1-for-6 against St. Louis on Friday. Alex Presley, who's hitting .245 in 36 starts at leadoff, was at the top of the lineup. Michael McKenry wass behind the plate after Rod Barajas made his first start on Friday since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee on Monday.
Pedro Alvarez has hit 11 of his 14 homers in day games. In his last three day games on the raod, Alvarez is 6-for-11 with five homers and 10 RBIs.
Neil Walker is batting .309 with 30 RBIs in 68 at-bats with runners in scoring position. He's also hitting .306 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
"I think a lot of it has to do with a hitter's comfort zone. Experience helps, maturity at the plate helps," Hurdle said of clutch hitting. "What I saw from Neil last year was an ability to score runs; it wasn't there for him early this season. He was one of those guys caught up in that two-month window that it was a struggle. ... But he's a guy I'm very comfortable with having at the plate in those situations. I think the team's comfortable with having him in the plate this situations."
The Pirates' bullpen enters Saturday with the second-best ERA (2.72) in the National League behind the Reds (2.67). Pittsburgh's bullpen is also tied for the fourth-most wins among NL teams with 13.
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.