Pirates finding success with small ball

April 6th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates haven’t been able to rely on the long ball early this season, but small ball did the trick two nights in a row.

In Pittsburgh’s 2-0 wins over Cincinnati on Thursday and Friday, the lineup manufactured at least one run to give the Pirates’ dominant pitching staff just enough support to win. The Pirates entered Saturday’s game at PNC Park with only three home runs and a .323 slugging percentage.

They believe there is more power in their lineup, but for now, they’re finding ways to put runs on the board.

“It’s always important when you’re not slugging. One of the good characteristics we’re trying to build here is we can win different ways,” manager Clint Hurdle said on Friday night. “If you have a team where the strength is the pitching, you’re always going to be in the hunt, always going to be in the game. The games you don’t hit, you have to find ways to scratch some runs out.”

On Thursday, the Pirates executed a pair of hit-and-run plays in the late innings, and that aggressive baserunning led to a pair of runs without an extra-base hit in either rally.

Jung Ho Kang doubled in the Pirates’ first run on Friday night, then they tacked on another run in the eighth with a pair of bunts by JB Shuck and Erik Gonzalez followed by an Adam Frazier double that dropped just inside the left-field line.

“We really haven’t gotten the bats going that well, so to be able to scratch out a couple runs is huge. We have the talent to be able to do it in different ways,” Shuck said. “I think that’s kind of becoming our identity, and we’re going to continue to build on it. Hopefully we can get more than two and start scoring three, four, five to make it a little bit easier on our pitchers.”

Around the horn

Jason Martin made his Major League debut on Saturday, a day after being promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis. Martin got the start in left field and batted leadoff, going 1-for-2 with a walk, a steal and a run scored. He is the first Pirates player to make his big league debut in the leadoff spot since then-left fielder Starling Marte, who memorably homered on the first pitch he saw on July 26, 2012.

Martin, 23, admitted he was nervous -- even if he didn’t show it on the field.

“I feel like that’s normal,” Martin said. “I was able to use it to my advantage to just know that I belong here, know that I’m ready and put the nerves to the side and turn it into more excitement.”

• Frazier, Kang and Francisco Cervelli were out of the starting lineup on Saturday -- the Pirates’ first day game immediately following a night game this season. Jacob Stallings got the nod behind the plate with Kevin Newman at second and Colin Moran at third. Frazier and Kang entered in the sixth inning, replacing Trevor Williams and Martin, respectively. Cervelli entered in the 10th as a pinch-hitter for reliever Francisco Liriano and scored the winning run on Newman's double.

• This is the first time since 1931 that the Pirates shut out the Reds in three straight games (last Sunday, Thursday and Friday). That year, Pittsburgh recorded a 5-0 win on July 31 followed by a 1-0 victory on Aug. 1 at Forbes Field and a 3-0 win in Cincinnati on Aug. 2.

• The Pirates will hold a “First Responder's Night” on April 20, when they host the Giants at PNC Park, to honor local law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The Pirates will also wear special City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety patches to honor local first responders.