6/4/2013 7:25 P.M. ET
Clutch hits in low supply for Pirates
By Eric Single / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- One day after Garrett Jones' monster home run found the Allegheny River on the fly on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, manager Clint Hurdle would only compliment his first baseman's achievement with a few qualifiers in tow.
"Unfortunately, those are the kinds of swings we took for the whole homestand, and we actually hit one of them," Hurdle said. "So, the good side is we hit that one at the time we hit it, but the 47 other that were swung and missed, we're trying to connect the dots with the hitters a little bit as we continue to work on this average with runners in scoring position."
The Pirates will certainly take the long ball whenever they can get it, but they have been more concerned with improving upon the more practical ways of manufacturing runs. As of Monday's action, Pittsburgh is hitting .219 with runners in scoring position this year, just two points ahead of Seattle for the worst average in baseball. Of the seven runners the Pirates left on base in Monday night's 7-2 loss to the Braves, five were stranded on second base.
"It's the hardest thing to do in baseball, in my opinion, two-out hits and hitting with runners in scoring position," second baseman Neil Walker said. "Just as a group and as individuals at the plate, you have to simplify things. You have to understand the situation, you have to know that you can't try to do too much."
Walker is hitting .190 in 42 plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season, a clip placing him among the least productive of the Pirates' everyday players. Pedro Alvarez, Brandon Inge and Russell Martin also have averages below .200 in those situations.
"We're not concerned about it as a group," Walker said. "Those numbers will turn around, we know that, but sometimes you go through ruts that it seems tough to drive guys in."
It is a problem that is easy to diagnose, but difficult to remedy. Walker noted that the players who maintain a mature approach at the plate and don't try to do too much with every at-bat will often find their numbers turn around.
"I think knowing the situation when you have runners in scoring position is very big -- who's hitting behind you, how they're going to attack you, this and that," Walker said. "I can't say it's more individual or not more individual, it's just one of those things where you have to simplify things. There's no physical thing you have to do to hit guys in. You just have to compete in the box."
Martin makes first career start in right field
ATLANTA -- The last time Russell Martin played right field, Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was playing alongside him in center while they roamed the outfield for Chipola College in Florida.
Martin returned to the outfield for the first time as a Major Leaguer when he got the start in right for Tuesday night's game at Turner Field, the most notable change within the 39th unique lineup for the Pirates this year.
Backup catcher Michael McKenry started behind the plate for Martin, while Travis Snider, the Pirates' regular right fielder with 31 starts this year, got the day off with left-hander Mike Minor on the mound for the Braves. Minor is just the second lefty starter the Pirates have faced in their past 22 games.
"We've had him out there taking reps," manager Clint Hurdle said of Martin. "I'm trying to put what I believe is a team out there that can provide us some offense against the matchup off the mound. We've been creative with the guys all year, continuing to try to keep some guys in play. This puts the most matchup bats out there."
Until Tuesday, the only position other than catcher that Martin had played in the field this year was third base, but with Monday night's home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna manning that station on Tuesday, moving Martin there was out of the question. Iassogna ejected Martin and Hurdle in the fourth inning of Monday night's 7-2 loss for arguing balls and strikes.
"That was a topic of discussion," Hurdle said. "As far away from the umpire as we can get the boy."
Martin did not seem thrown off by the change -- Hurdle often notifies players of changes in the lineup the night before -- but expected his earnest approach to guide him through any future trips to the outfield.
"I remember playing a ton of different positions when I was a kid," Martin said. "I tried to make the best of every situation. Obviously, my comfort level's probably highest behind the plate because I played there so much, but it's a challenge, and I like challenges."
"If he's in the lineup and he's not a catcher, he's 6 years old in the backyard, and that's not a bad thing," Hurdle said. "It takes him to a real good place."
Bucs using off-days to stick with four-man rotation
ATLANTA -- The Pirates have put off their decision on how to replace Jeanmar Gomez for at least one more trip through the starting rotation.
With Thursday's off-day before a three-game set in Chicago and another off-day on the following Monday, the Pirates' four healthy starters could conceivably continue to pitch on their regular four days of rest deep into next week. Hurdle had held off revealing his plans for the coming weekend until after Monday's game against the Braves, when he could discuss the matter with A.J. Burnett. Hurdle confirmed that Burnett typically prefers staying on a five-day schedule when possible.
"We'll actually have an opportunity maybe to move everybody, because there's a couple guys with even more extended down time," Hurdle said on Monday.
The Pirates placed Gomez on the 15-day disabled list before the start of their series in Atlanta with a strain and inflammation in his right forearm. Gomez exited his start on Sunday against the Reds after allowing four runs in the first inning, leaving the bullpen to pick up the slack over the next 10 innings of the Pirates' 5-4 extra-inning win.
Hurdle played it coy when pressed for his plans beyond next Monday, at which point the Pirates begin a stretch of 13 straight games without an off-day.
"After the off day [on Monday] … I'll just wait," Hurdle said before Tuesday's game. "That'll give you enough for now. It's called a tease in the TV business, isn't it?"
Francisco Liriano will start the first game of the series on Friday afternoon, followed by Burnett on Saturday and Jeff Locke on Sunday.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.