PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates squeaked out a win in a low-scoring affair on Friday against the Nationals. But on Saturday, they unloaded on offense.
Among the many standout performances on offense was Bryan Reynolds, who has had an unlucky run with expected batting average recently. The center fielder had three hard-hit outs on Friday, and then began Saturday’s game with a 100 mph lineout.
What advice did manager Derek Shelton, a former hitting coach, have for him?
“The only thing I said to him after his first at-bat was, ‘You need to hit it softer and find some outfield grass,’” Shelton recalled, with a grin.
Instead, Reynolds hit “a two iron,” per Shelton, for a Statcast-projected 426-foot two-run homer in the fifth inning. Reynolds drew two walks and lined a single around the dinger.
“I’ve definitely felt that the past few games, but today we snuck a couple,” Reynolds said. “It’s better than hitting it soft and getting out. At least you know you’re on the right track.”
Of course, 10 runs don’t happen through one player alone. The Pirates got consistent contributions from all across the lineup, including the No. 8 spot.
Hoy Park drew three consecutive walks before swinging the bat to notch a single, a performance which set him up to score three runs. The rookie utility player was optioned near the end of August on a skid, and he hasn’t fared much better since being recalled on Aug. 31 (2-for-24 with two walks entering Saturday).
Maybe a game like this -- one in which Park showed the enhanced control of the strike zone that fueled a strong Triple-A season -- can get him going.
“The last couple days, he’s been really aggressive. I think he made three outs on the first pitch,” Shelton said. “[Assistant hitting coach Christian Marrero and Major League assistant Tim McKeithan] had just talked to him about just getting his pitch to hit. He got the hit late, but the at-bats before that -- that he was able to work the walks and see the pitches out of the zone, I think it was a really important step.”
As much as the big hits from Reynolds and Ben Gamel, who hit a solo shot two at-bats after Reynolds’ homer, contributed and provided a boost of confidence, the key to the high scoring was the plate discipline across the lineup.
A picture-perfect example: The Pirates scored four runs in the sixth inning, the most of any frame on the night. They only notched one hit during that outburst while drawing four walks, including Reynolds’ bases-loaded free pass.
In fact, Pittsburgh had three more walks (10) than hits (7) in the game.
The Pirates know they need to be a better hitting team across the vast majority of their lineup. Consistent control of the strike zone would be a big developmental step for many of the players, setting them up to get hits down the road.
“I think it was the difference in the game,” Shelton said. “... I thought our guys did a really good job with their approach. They stayed consistent with it, didn’t give in and because of it, we had a ton of [runners] on base and were able to capitalize on it.”