7/28/2013 5:49 P.M. ET
Bucs confident they can produce in the clutch
By Joe Morgan / MLB.com
MIAMI -- The Pirates entered Sunday as one of baseball's worst teams with runners in scoring position. Pittsburgh ranked last in the Majors with a .222 average and next to last with 244 RBIs in those situations.
Friday night's 2-0 loss to the Marlins encapsulated the Pirates' struggles, as they went 0-for-6 with runners on second and/or third. But the bats picked it up in clutch situations on Saturday.
Pittsburgh finished 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position and got two-out RBIs from Garrett Jones, Michael McKenry and Pedro Alvarez in a 7-4 victory.
McKenry believes Saturday's offensive outburst is just the beginning.
"No added pressure," the catcher said. "Last year, we had the first half, and we were super hot in June, July. This is the lull of baseball. It's going to turn over. We're going to drive the ball with runners in scoring position more often. We're going to have better at-bats. There's too much talent and there's too much ability in this locker room to do everything they can to get better. We'll be fine."
The Pirates also showed some life offensively when taking three out of four against the Nationals in Washington from July 22-25, scoring 22 runs in the series.
However, they struggled to bring home runners in scoring position against the Nats, finishing just 6-for-41 in those situations, including a 3-for-18 line in the Pirates' 9-7 series-ending loss.
Considering Pittsburgh has had 64 at-bats with runners in scoring position during its past six games, Neil Walker is confident the club will eventually capitalize on its numerous run-scoring opportunities.
"The consistency of the at-bats is getting better," Walker said. "It was better in Washington. I know it's going to continue to improve. It's just a matter of getting the opportunities, getting many chances with guys in scoring position and having consistent at-bats up and down the lineup."
Prospect Sanchez provides Bucs catching depth
MIAMI -- Michael McKenry's status remains uncertain after he injured his left knee sliding into second base late in Saturday's win over the Marlins. Prospect Tony Sanchez was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday to provide depth at catcher behind the dinged up duo of McKenry and Russell Martin.
Travis Snider was placed on the 15-day disabled list with discomfort in his left big toe in a corresponding move. Snider has just one hit in his past 14 at-bats.
"He's been playing with it a month, about a month with it," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Snider's toe discomfort. "He's tried different things. We tried to eliminate the pain, the discomfort. He's really battled the last two weeks, and it's just got to a point that we're best to get him down, get him off of it."
McKenry described his knee as feeling "stuck" following Saturday's game.
"It's still stiff," McKenry said. "I'm just taking it one step at a time."
Martin started at catcher and batted fifth on Sunday, and he drove in a run and scored in the Pirates' 3-2 loss. He also tweaked his left knee, doing so in a home-plate collision on Friday.
"Michael's being evaluated, Russell's penciled in to play," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday morning. "[Martin has] shown improvement. He's not back 100 percent. That might not happen for a while, but he's good to go."
Sanchez, ranked 12th on the Pirates' Top Prospects list according to MLB.com, is eager to prove he belongs in the Majors.
Although he was named the MiLB Top Star after hitting a three-run homer in the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 17, the former No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft said he aspires to do much more than that.
For Sanchez, that means picking the minds of the guys in the big leagues, especially Martin and McKenry. The three developed a connection in Spring Training.
"We'll talk," Sanchez said. "We share ideas, tell each other what we think. There's no animosity there. We're like brothers. We play the same position, and we both love what we do. We pull for one another. It's genuine."
When Sanchez went down to Triple-A in mid-March, general manager Neal Huntington said the 25-year-old needed to work on his defense and adding power to his swing. Hurdle believes Sanchez has made strides in both areas.
Hurdle pointed out specifically Sanchez's work on blocking baseballs and throwing, as well as the catcher's continued progress at the plate.
"I think there's been incremental progress from the beginning of the season until now," Hurdle said. "He's putting together a nice little resume as he continues to work very hard at improving and getting ready for his next opportunity."
Hurdle sees youth being served in Majors
MIAMI -- Sunday's series finale between the Pirates and the Marlins featured two former first-round Draft picks in Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged the buzz around the matchup, but noted that an abundance of youth is now the norm in the big leagues.
"The infusion of young talent this season, that wave has been as impressive of a wave as I've seen in a long time," Hurdle said. "Off the mound, in the field. Not just in our league, in the other league.
"We talked about the number of players that were 25 years or younger on the All-Star team in the National League. I didn't even try to count the ones in the American League."
Fernandez was one of those young All-Stars, making his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic as a 20-year-old rookie. He became only the third pitcher younger than 21 to strike out two or more batters in an All-Star Game.
The two batters he fanned were MLB home run leader Chris Davis and former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. Fernandez also retired Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera on a popup in foul territory.
"There's an intensity that seems to jump out a little bit watching film," Hurdle said of Fernandez.
While Cole has not enjoyed the same level of success as Fernandez, he is coming off his strongest outing of the season after giving up only one run on two hits with one walk and four strikeouts in seven strong innings against the Nationals on July 23.
Hurdle has been impressed with Cole this season and was excited to see the two future aces battle it out on Sunday.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch," Hurdle said Sunday morning. "No doubt."
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.