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Perrotto: Any Quick Fixes for Pirates’ Hitting Woes?

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Jake Lamb, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates have wiped out all those good feelings from their surprising 9-2 start.

Flipping the script completely, the Pirates have gone 2-9 in their last 11 games. An ugly 6-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at PNC Park ran the Pirates’ losing streak to six games and dropped their overall record to 11-11.

It was an ugly game for the Pirates with embarrassing mistakes in all phases. Two runners were thrown out on the bases, Aroldis Chapman was called for a balk on a third disengagement and shortstop Oneil Cruz dropped a routine popup while also having his strikeout total reach an MLB-high 37.

The loss capped an awful week for the Pirates. They were swept in a three-game series by the Mets in New York to begin the week then got swept by the Red Sox over the weekend.

Exacerbating all the problems was the Pirates’ inability to score. They plated just nine runs in those six games, lending credence to the theory that teams struggling offensively often look dead.

The Pirates sleepwalked through Sunday’s game, something rare during manager Derek Shelton’s five seasons.

However, the lack of effort was likely a one-off. The real concern is the lack of hitting.

The Pirates are hitting just .177 during their skid with six extra-base hits — four doubles, one triple and one home run. They have been held to five hits or less in four of the six games and scored only one run four times.

Furthermore, the Pirates were an abysmal 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position against the Red Sox and are 5 for 38 (.132) during the losing streak.

Seemingly everyone in the lineup has slumped at once during the six games: Jared Triolo is 2 for 18, Cruz is 2 for 17, Rowdy Tellez is 2 for 15, Andrew McCutchen is 1 for 13 and Edward Olivares is 1 for 12.

So how do the Pirates fix their offensive problem? Left fielder Bryan Reynolds, one of the few players in the lineup producing, says hard work would be the most effective option.

“It’s early work and cage work and all that is going to lead to better results,” he said.

Even Reynolds went 0 for 4 on Sunday after going 5 for 12 in the previous five games.

Some seemingly good news for the Pirates is that their Triple-A Indianapolis farm club is hitting .277, which is third in the International League in hitting. However, the Indians have hit just 13 home runs in their first 21 games.

The two players off to the hottest starts are middle infielder Nick Gonzales and corner infielder Jake Lamb. Gonzales is hitting .385/.435/.590 in 19 games while Lamb has a .362/.458/.532 slash line in 15 games.

Theoretically, the Pirates could promote Gonzales to play second base and demote Triolo.

However, it would be surprising if the Pirates gave up on Triolo that quickly. Furthermore, Gonzales looked overmatched in his first taste of the major leagues last year when he hit .209/.268/.348 in 35 games.

Lamb certainly isn’t a prospect. He’s 33 years old, has over eight years of major-league service time and hasn’t spent a full season in the big leagues since 2020. It seems unlikely he would be an upgrade over Tellez at first base.

The Pirates graduated many of their top hitting prospects last season.

The only position player ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects is second baseman Termarr Johnson at No. 71. Yet he is three levels away from the big leagues at High-A Greensboro.

Perhaps veteran catcher Yasmani Grandal’s imminent return from the injured list could provide a spark. Maybe not, though, considering he hit .209/.305/.306 in 217 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2022 and 2023.

So, there are no quick fixes to the Pirates’ hitting woes. They have to stick with what they have and hope their fortunes change.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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