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Pirates' offense slumping out of the gate

PITTSBURGH -- Last year, the Pirates boasted one of the most patient and productive lineups in baseball. They led the National League with 520 walks and ranked fourth with 682 runs.

That hasn't been the case for the Bucs so far this season, particularly after getting shut out by the Tigers the last two nights at PNC Park.

"We're just a tick off," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "And a tick off is a lot sometimes at the Major League level."

The Pirates managed only two hits against Tigers starter Alfredo Simon in a 1-0 loss Wednesday night. That came a day after they were three-hit over eight innings by Tigers right-hander Shane Greene.

As for that patient offense, the Bucs haven't drawn a walk since the fifth inning of Saturday's game in Milwaukee.

"We stay aggressive. If they throw a bad pitch, we'll take it and take a walk," left fielder Starling Marte said. "If they throw to the [strike] zone, we'll try to hit."

Through their first nine games, the Pirates have only taken 14 free passes, half of which came in one game against the Reds, and they're tied for the Major League lead with 81 strikeouts as a team.

"You need to be on top of your game, and we're not where we need to be on offense," Hurdle said. "They're coming right after us, and we haven't been able to capitalize on balls that we have had opportunities to square up."

Since Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning of Monday's home opener, the Bucs have gone scoreless while tallying only six hits, all of them singles.

They've had only one runner reach second base since Monday. That lone instance came in the fourth inning Wednesday, when Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker hit consecutive singles.

"We've got some pitches to hit. We haven't been able to square them up," Hurdle said. "We worked hard to get in some offensive counts and haven't been able to get the at-bat that we need. Right now, we've got work to do on the offensive side."

The Pirates believe they will break out of this early-season slump. This is the same group, former catcher Russell Martin aside, that enjoyed so much success at the plate a year ago -- the same players who made the Bucs' lineup look like the club's greatest strength heading into the season.

"You just keep playing and keep working. You look at the positives," Hurdle said. "Guys have got to take it upon themselves individually to throw up the best at-bat they can every time they go up there, and try to put the guy behind them in a better spot than they're in."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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