09/25/12 11:19 PM ET
Walker's slump coincides with Pirates' swoon
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Pirates pitching staff sets club strikeouts record
NEW YORK -- The main interpretation of Clint Hurdle's year-long mantra -- Finish! -- will not be realized. This Pirates season is heading toward a finish as unsatisfactory as the last one.However, one notable element of that command -- "Finish the batter" -- is being followed in a record-setting way. On Tuesday night, Pittsburgh pitchers surpassed the club record for most strikeouts in a season, the 1,124 rung up by the 1969 staff. It is a noteworthy achievement mostly as an execution of the team's design of moving away from the pitch-to-contact staff that last season ranked last in the National League in strikeouts. "We've been able to come through and succeed along those lines," Hurdle nodded. "We put in place a plan, and stayed with it, and it has produced some good results." The deliberate search for pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff led to A.J. Burnett, who tops the staff with 172 strikeouts, and to left-hander Erik Bedard, who fanned 118 before being released in late August. Another considerable jolt has come from Jason Grilli, the veteran reliever who has been striking people out (84 in 55 2/3 innings) as never before. Hurdle and his boss have been aware of the growing strikeout haul. "[GM Neal Huntington] and I couldn't wrap our minds around that, other than ... we're going to strike out the most batters any Pirates team has ever struck out," said Hurdle, whose unwrapped mind was blown most by something his pitchers had accomplished during last weekend in Houston. The Bucs had 12 strikeouts in each of the three games, a franchise first in the modern era. "That's what absolutely just electrified me, something that has not happened at least since nine-teen-hundred," said Hurdle, just like that, emphasizing each syllable.
The Bucs' poor performance hitting with runners in scoring position is reflected by the fact they have actually outhit the opposition in five of their last 11 losses, dating back to the Sept. 10-12 series in Cincinnati. Walker has gone 43 at-bats since his last extra-base hit, a double on Aug. 21. Andrew McCutchen's triple in the eighth-inning of Monday's game was the Bucs' 35th of the season, matching last year's total. The last time the club had more was in 2005 (38).
"It's not hard to process, because we've had to live it every day. It's not fun to go through these things. But as younger players, you learn something from getting your teeth kicked in."
-- Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, on the Pirates' late-season swoon
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.