Bucs' offense aims to retrieve form as skid reaches six games

May 7th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- With no outs in the seventh inning and the Pirates trailing by six runs, Miguel Andujar nearly injected some much-needed life into PNC Park.

Pittsburgh had already plated a run against José Berríos in the seventh, and when Andujar sent a rocket up the middle, the Pirates appeared to really have something cooking. If the ball had found the outfield grass for a single, the team would have runners on first and second with no outs, the foundation for a big inning. But the Blue Jays’ defense intervened.

Second baseman Whit Merrifield took a hard step to his right, dove and stopped Andujar’s hot shot, flipping the ball to shortstop Bo Bichette for the forceout. The inning wasn’t over, but Toronto’s defense quelled a potential rally. The sequence not only symbolized the Pirates’ 8-2 loss on Saturday night, but the team’s six-game losing streak -- one that has been defined by offensive woes.

“Right now, we’re in a little bit of a funk,” said manager Derek Shelton. “We just need to bounce out of it. I would say this team is better equipped to bounce out of it.”

A central reason for Pittsburgh’s recent skid is the sudden lack of offensive production. The Pirates have been limited to two runs or fewer over their past six games, going 33-for-188 (.176) as a unit during this recent stretch. Remove the red-hot from the equation and the team is 25-for-165 (.152) over these past six games.

The offense’s woes have been due in part to the quality of pitching in recent days, though. Against the Rays, the Pirates faced a seven-arm bullpen game to begin the series, followed by All-Star Shane McClanahan and Zach Eflin, a pair of starters who have been among the American League’s best to begin the season. On Friday, former All-Star Chris Bassitt delivered his finest start of the season, pitching seven scoreless frames for the Blue Jays.

“We’ve got to get back to having more consistent at-bats,” Shelton said before Saturday’s game. “Some of that has to do with [how] we’ve been pitched to a little bit. People always want to [say] -- and maybe I’m sensitive to this, because I was a hitting coach -- that you’ve got to make a physical adjustment [when] your offense is struggling.

“Sometimes, you get pitched to. We saw that early in April with our pitching group. You walk away from a series and say, ‘Why’s that offense scuffling?’ Well, we pitched really well. Right now, we’ve been pitched to a little bit.”

On Saturday, Berríos became the latest starter to shove against Pittsburgh, allowing two runs with seven strikeouts across 6 1/3 innings. Berríos, a two-time All-Star who has been inconsistent during his time with Toronto, had a brief date with perfection against the Pirates, as the right-hander didn’t allow his first baserunner until drew a walk with one out in the fifth inning. immediately followed Suwinski with an opposite-field single to break up Berríos’ no-hit bid.

Suwinski also homered off Berríos in the seventh, on a solo shot to right field that offered a bright spot for the home team.

“I think the slider [was good], and the fact that he was able to execute the slider to both sides of the plate and play the fastball off it,” Shelton said. “The slider was really good.”

Along with the quality of pitching, there’s also the personnel that the team is missing. Shortstop (fractured fibula) and first baseman Ji Man Choi (left Achilles) are currently on the 60-day injured list and will miss a good chunk of the season. Additionally, was scratched from Friday’s lineup due to a left ankle sprain. Prior to the loss, Shelton said McCutchen is still receiving treatment, but he is trending in the right direction. His timetable to return is currently unknown.

For as cold as the offense has been, it isn’t too far removed from one of its hottest stretches in years. The Pirates totaled 43 runs from April 25 to April 29, tied for the most runs that the team has accumulated in a five-game stretch during Shelton’s tenure. That recent run provides the skipper with confidence that the offense can find its footing.

“We’ve kind of got to find our groove a little bit,” Shelton said. “We’ve been inconsistent over the last six games, but I know our guys can hit. I know our approach can be good.”