8/4/2013 12:36 P.M. ET
Harrison's improved discipline pleases Pirates
By Steven Petrella / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Every good baseball team has its role players that contribute in different facets of the game, and the Pirates hope one of theirs, Josh Harrison, has finally turned an offensive corner.
"An area that he's shown improvement in is lack of chase," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Because Josh, his on-base percentage hasn't been what it needs to be for him to be an everyday player."
Entering Sunday's finale against the Rockies, Harrison had a career .279 on-base percentage, low for a player who features what Hurdle called "usable speed." But chasing pitches has been a problem, and Hurdle said there's a visible difference now. Harrison is taking pitches, squaring up more balls and working counts.
Although it's not by much, he is currently posting marks better than his career average in several categories of plate discipline --- swing percentage, swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone and number of swinging strikes.
"He needed to take it upon himself because the league knows him," Hurdle said. "Why do they throw balls out of the strike zone? Because he used to swing at them."
Harrison is 6-for-20 in 15 games during his most recent stint with the Bucs, which began July 9, and has played second, third, shortstop and the outfield. He made several good plays at third base Saturday night, both charging the ball and going to his right.
He also laid down a perfect bunt on a squeeze play to score Jose Tabata in the sixth. Versatility is key for any utility player, and Harrison is happy to contribute however he can.
"If you ask anybody, they want to be part of the team and help any way possible," he said. "If that's me playing multiple positions, getting squeezes down, that's what I'm going to do."
Still, Harrison has room to improve. He's walked just once in 36 plate appearances this season and 14 times in 516 career plate appearances. But the organization is pleased with the work Harrison has put in and the results since he rejoined the team.
"This, for me," Hurdle said, "is the best place he's been in."
• James McDonald, on the DL since early May with shoulder discomfort, is scheduled to begin throwing off the mound with a side session Monday.
• By raising his record to 12-4 and lowering his ERA to 2.02 Saturday night, Francisco Liriano became the third Pirates pitcher and first left-hander since 1912, the first year the National League began logging ERAs, to open a season with at least a dozen wins and an ERA below 2.25 through 16 starts.
Rip Sewell (12-2, 2.22) in 1943 and Dock Ellis (12-3, 2.24) in '71 also reached those plateaus.
• In Saturday night's 5-2 victory, Pirates pitching held the opposition to two or fewer runs for the 49th time in 110 games, or 44 percent of the time.
• The Pittsburgh bullpen, aka The Shark Tank, was not impressed that the Discovery Channel's Shark Week began Sunday.
"Here, every week is Shark Week," noted Bryan Morris. "Although Jason Grilli did order us to DVR the whole thing."
0.75: Mark Melancon's ERA in the 12 ninth innings he has pitched this season -- even lower than his 0.86 overall ERA, the lowest among NL relievers
"He looked like he drank a six pack, then went in the backyard and came up with a batting stance. But he made a pretty good career out of hitting funny."
-- Hurdle on Craig Counsell, who turned an unorthodox batting stance into a 16-season Major League career that ended in 2011
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.