Bucs win opener in much-needed offensive bonanza

As Shelton gives Haines his support, Pirates pummel Padres with three homers

June 28th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Before the Pirates took the field on Tuesday at PNC Park, manager Derek Shelton gave hitting coach Andy Haines his personal stamp of approval. Shelton praised Haines on the radio, then did so again several hours later to reporters. So, how did the Pirates respond?

The Pirates responded by collecting 16 hits, seven of which came with runners in scoring position, en route to beating the Padres, 9-4, putting together their best offensive performance in the past two weeks.

“I’ve been around for a while and I’ve been around really good teams, and I know what it takes to win,” said Rich Hill. “Seeing these guys come together collectively is something that’s special. It takes that level of intensity to keep putting that effort in every single night and continue on tomorrow.”

Given how the last several weeks have unfolded, a nine-run, 16-hit barrage was the collective performance that the black and gold needed.

From June 13-25, the Pirates scored 30 runs across 13 games (2.31 per game); slashed .176/.250/.281 as a collective; and struck out 118 times across 464 plate appearances (25.4% K%). During that stretch, they were shut out four times. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Pittsburgh had lost 12 of its past 13 games. Despite the Pirates’ offensive struggles, Shelton defended Haines on 93.7 The Fan during his weekly radio show on Tuesday morning.

“I know he’s feeling it, too,” Shelton said on 93.7 The Fan. “I’ve been on the other side of that, where people have had to defend me from being a hitting coach. It’s always easiest to attack the guy that’s at the top of that system. … Andy Haines is a good hitting coach. I know everyone out there wants to attack right now that we’re not hitting. We have some young hitters that need to get better. I’m very confident that he’s going to help figure out how to do that.”

Later that afternoon, Shelton fielded numerous follow-up questions from reporters regarding his support of Haines during his pregame availability. Shelton’s stance remained the same, again describing Haines as a “good hitting coach.” Shelton praised the positivity that Haines provides every day, pointing out the difficulty that comes with staying positive as a hitting coach. Shelton also noted that Pittsburgh’s position players trust Haines as a hitting coach.

“I’m probably uniquely qualified to talk about being a hitting coach, and it’s an extremely hard job,” Shelton, a former hitting coach himself, said. “We’re going through a stretch right now with a bunch of young guys that are making an adjustment. Not only are they making an adjustment to the big leagues, but some of them are making an adjustment to the adjustment that the big leagues has made for them. When you have someone who has been with them for a year and has the ability to have those conversations, that’s really important.”

One good night does not mean that Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles are officially over, but Tuesday marked a necessary step forward.

The Padres struck first by scoring three runs in the top of the second inning, but the Pirates immediately responded with three runs of their own in the bottom half. Carlos Santana and Jack Suwinski slugged back-to-back home runs to begin the third inning, and Pittsburgh had a lead it never relinquished.

There was no shortage of contributors on a night where the hits kept stacking up. Santana had three hits on the night. Andrew McCutchen collected three hits of his own. Rodolfo Castro and Henry Davis had two hits each. Austin Hedges reached base four times. On the pitching side, Roansy Contreras pitched three innings in relief to record his first career save. This night, though, belonged to .

In his fourth career game, Gonzales began his evening by collecting his first career hit, a high-arching triple off the Clemente Wall that drove in Castro. Five innings later, Gonzales launched a booming 442-foot home run that cleared the shrubbery in center field and hit PNC Park’s batter’s eye.

“That’s the reason he’s here,” McCutchen said. “We know what he can do. He knows what he can do. It’s nice for him to be able to do that here, get the triple, get the hit and the RBIs, the homer, too. He’s fun to watch. It’s part of the reason he’s here, to help impact this ball club. He can impact it in many ways. He was able to showcase part of that today.”