Bucs' bats showing signs of turnaround after slow start

May 25th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- Baseball is, if nothing else, a cyclical game. What goes up must eventually come down, and struggling units will almost surely get going for at least a bit of time.

And while the way the Pirates started the year offensively may have seemed to test that baseball truism, they have finally been producing at the plate of late, as evidenced by an 11-5 victory over the Braves at PNC Park on Friday.

Turn the calendar back to May 10, and the Pirates were tied with the Blue Jays for the third-fewest runs scored in MLB with 136. It’s an arguably arbitrary start point, but the Pirates have scored 73 runs over the last two weeks, the third-most in baseball during that stretch, trailing just the Phillies and Giants.

“Hitting is very contagious,” said . “One through nine swinging the bat well, good things are gonna happen.”

A lot went right for the Pirates on Friday. delivered his third straight quality start, not allowing a run until Ronald Acuña Jr. tagged a sinker in the eighth inning for a three-run homer. They ran the bases aggressively, as highlighted by Oneil Cruz going from first to home in 9.35 seconds -- his personal best time -- on Yasmani Grandal’s double.

But it’s the offense that’s the story. After struggling for most of the first month of the season, this stretch has been a windfall. So what’s clicking?

The most obvious change is the addition of Gonzales. After being limited to just a .616 OPS in his first taste of the Majors last season, he sought out some tough love advice to improve. It led to a series of mechanical tweaks, including standing more upright, readjusting where his legs are and being flatter through the zone.

It wasn’t enough for him to crack the Opening Day roster, but even in the meeting at the end of Spring Training where he was told he wasn’t making the team, his response was asking what he needed to do to earn a spot moving forward.

“It's been really exciting,” Gonzales said. “I asked for an honest truth and it was given to me. Obviously, the resources we have are plentiful. Having someone be there to help you make those adjustments all throughout the way is huge for me.”

The results are speaking for themselves. After a very strong showing with Triple-A Indianapolis, Gonzales is hitting .300 with an .857 OPS since being recalled May 10. Most of that playing time has come in the middle of the Pirates’ order, where he has 13 RBIs. That includes four Friday, when he opened the scoring with a two-out, two-run single in the first before doubling home two more in the sixth.

“I get a little more amped up, a little more motivated to get those runs in and help the team,” Gonzales said, adding that he feels more confident in those run-scoring chances.

When asked postgame what is clicking offensively, manager Derek Shelton cited the team’s approach and being more aggressive.

“We’re doing a better job of swinging at the pitches we can drive,” said Shelton. “We’re seeing the results of that.”

Looking at the pitches the Pirates drove in runs on Friday, all seven against Ray Kerr and Darius Vines were belt high. They got good pitches to hit in run-scoring opportunities, and they hit them:

It was a full lineup effort, too. All nine starters got at least one hit. Edward Olivares, who could potentially play more after the team optioned Jack Suwinski to the Minors on Thursday, had three hits and two RBIs. Grandal almost hit the injured list after being removed in the 10th inning of Tuesday’s game, but he came back with a two-run double.

And getting contributions from someone like Jared Triolo, who hung on more for his defense than his bat early, more often is something to watch. He caught an 0-2 Vines fastball up and in Friday, but was able to get the hands in and conquer the left-center notch for his third home run of the season.

“He went through a stretch where he was taking pretty good swings and not getting anything for it,” Shelton said of Triolo. “The fact that he’s stayed with it is really important. We’re seeing the consistency of actual hits now, which is good to see.”

If the Pirates keep doing what they have been doing, then perhaps this could be more than just a two-week hot streak. Time will tell.