PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' game-tying rally Wednesday night started innocently but impressively.Facing All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the ninth, David Freese fell behind in the count, one ball and two strikes. Knebel challenged Freese with a 98.9-mph fastball, which Freese took low for a ball. Then came
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' game-tying rally Wednesday night started innocently but impressively.
Facing All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the ninth, David Freese fell behind in the count, one ball and two strikes. Knebel challenged Freese with a 98.9-mph fastball, which Freese took low for a ball. Then came two sharp curveballs. Freese followed the first one as it sailed away and outside the zone then took the full-count pitch, which dived under the zone for ball four.
It was another instance of Freese doing what he's done best for the Pirates. He is still working on his swing, so he was encouraged by the two singles he swatted to right field during Wednesday's 3-2 win. But his eye and approach have not faltered all season. That much is evident in his .376 on-base percentage, which would be the highest mark of his career.
"I think it's a sign of maturity in a hitter. Your confidence is your confidence. It's not your batting average," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I truly think he shows up every day trying to help us win in some shape, fashion or form. He's not going to get caught up in getting good at changing things at the plate.
"He's just trying to hunt. He's trying to set the blind and hunt, let the prey come to him versus going out and chasing it."
Freese has the 19th-highest on-base percentage among National League hitters with at least 250 plate appearances; with the Pirates, he trails only Andrew McCutchen. Only five players with at least 200 plate appearances entered Thursday's action with an OBP higher than their slugging percentage: Freese, John Forsythe, Tony Wolters, Brad Miller and Gorkys Hernandez.
Jungho Kang's continued absence forced Freese to play third base every day early this season, and he was arguably their hottest hitter in April, slashing .321/.418/.536 in 18 games before going on the disabled list. Since returning on May 12, Freese has hit just .224 while posting a .363 OBP, evidence of the sharp eye and discerning approach that came through in a big spot Wednesday night.
"It's weird. It's just like my swing, I'm just trying to work on it," Freese said. "I think I'm getting on base as well as I ever have. Just trying to get my body in position to drive the ball, maybe get after it a little bit more when I see something down the middle and explode, work on that. Nature of the beast."
Around the horn
• The Pirates promoted three of their top prospects, all shortstops. Kevin Newman, the Bucs' No. 3 prospect per MLBPipeline.com and their first-round Draft pick in 2015, was assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis. To fill Newman's spot in Double-A Altoona, Pittsburgh promoted No. 5 prospect (and 2014 first-round pick) Cole Tucker. Stephen Alemais, Pittsburgh's No. 14 prospect and a third-round pick last year, was assigned to Class A Advanced Bradenton.
• The Pirates are relying on three young starters -- Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams -- who have never sustained the workload of a full Major League season, but Hurdle said the club is "very confident that everything's manageable at this point in time."
• Rookies Josh Bell and Max Moroff have recorded their first career walk-off hits over the past week. The last time Pittsburgh had multiple rookies with walk-off hits in the same season was 2009, when Garrett Jones and McCutchen each had two.
• Moroff scored the tying run Wednesday night as a pinch-runner (for Freese) before slapping the game-winning hit to center. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last player to score the tying run of a game as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning before delivering the game-ending hit in extras was the Padres' Will Venable on May 29, 2013.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.