Jack, Josh give Bucs' bats much-needed jolt

Pirates erupt for season-high 10 runs via two three-run homers

May 25th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Jack Suwinski was hyped. His teammates were, too. This three-run home run was worth more than three runs.

Suwinski had a little extra juice as he rounded the bases, emphatically clapping his hands after touching first base and bumping chests with Rodolfo Castro. The home run wasn’t just a big moment in the game, one that set the stage for the Pirates’ 10-5 win at PNC Park in which Pittsburgh eclipsed its season-high in runs. For an offense stuck in the mud, Suwinski’s three-run home run was the hit, the spark, that the Pirates have desperately needed.

“We’re always talking in the dugout and in the cage that the offense is real close to having that big breakthrough that we saw today,” Suwinski said. “I was glad I was able to contribute to that. It’s been something that’s coming for a long time, and I’m glad we got to show that today.”

Suwinski wasn’t the only Pirate with a three-run jack to his name. An inning after Suwinski tied the game, Josh VanMeter extended Pittsburgh’s lead to four with a three-run no-doubter, one that would’ve been a home run in all 30 Major League stadiums.

There was no shortage of notable stat lines. All but one of Pittsburgh’s starting nine reached base at least once. Castro, Suwinski, VanMeter, Ben Gamel, Michael Chavis and Bryan Reynolds all reached base twice. So did Cal Mitchell, who notched the second and third hits of his budding career, including his first double. In recent days, games like this one have been nearly non-existent.

Entering play, the Pirates were averaging just 2.8 runs per game in May, and 2.1 runs per game in their last 10 games. The loss of designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who hit the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, doesn’t help Pittsburgh’s quest for offense. There’s no sole reason as to why the offense has sputtered, but the lack of production in timely moments has been an impediment.

Coming into Wednesday, the Pirates had the second-worst batting average (.160), on-base percentage (.259) and wRC+ (56) with runners in scoring position in May. Those struggles will wear on any team, but especially one filled with first- and second-year players. Manager Derek Shelton credited hitting coach Andy Haines for his ability to stay positive during these struggles, a trait that’s especially necessary given the team’s youth.

“When you have young players, you have to stay positive,” Shelton said. “I think that’s one of Andy’s greatest attributes is that he stays positive. And it’s hard, man. I know I’ve been there when you’re not swinging the bats as well as you want. You have young kids that are learning, but I give credit to that group.”

Shelton played his own part in Wednesday’s outburst as well by way of a lineup shakeup. Reynolds was slotted in at leadoff, only the sixth time in his career that he has been the first Pirate up. Mitchell, in just his second Major League game, followed Reynolds. Lineup construction isn’t everything, but putting an All-Star at the leadoff and a rookie in the two-hole is certainly a way to get creative.

“We hadn’t been scoring runs, so why not mix it up?” Shelton said. “I thought Cal had good at-bats. He’s been having good at-bats in [Indianapolis], just giving us a little bit of a different look. Throwing Bryan in the one, putting Cal in the two, just kind of mix it up a little bit just to see if we could shake it up. Our guys responded to it.”

Of course, one game does not mean the offense has fully escaped the doldrums. The Pirates have a daunting task ahead as they travel to Southern California for six games against the Padres and Dodgers, two of the best pitching staffs in the league. In San Diego, they’ll meet a three-headed hydra in Sean Manaea, Joe Musgrove and MacKenzie Gore. But in putting up a 10-spot to complete a series win, the bats are feeling good as they head west.

“To be able to put 10 on the board today was good for our psyche going forward,” VanMeter said. “It was really good for us.”