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Perrotto: Hard to Find Antidote to Pirates’ Hitting Woes

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Jack Suwisnki

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense “exploded” at just the right time.

OK, maybe by normal standards, it wasn’t an explosion when the Pirates scratched out a run in the bottom of the ninth inning following seven brilliant innings by rookie sensation Jared Jones to edge the Colorado Rockies 1-0 on Saturday at PNC Park.

However, scoring a run constitutes an explosion by the Pirates’ offense. It was enough for the Pirates to break a five-game losing streak and win for the fourth time in 18 games. They have scored two runs or less in 14 of those games.

The Pirates’ winning rally started with Connor Joe grounding a leadoff single into left field, taking second on a wild pitch and moving to third on Yasmani Grandal’s groundout. Jared Triolo then drew his third walk of the game with two outs and Oneil Cruz was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Jack Suwinski, one of the many slumping Pirates’ hitters, was then called on to pinch hit for Michael A. Taylor despite his .162 batting average. Suwinski lined an opposite-field single to left field, scoring Joe.

The Pirates didn’t pound former teammate Nick Mears into submission in that ninth inning. However, they finally scored a run after scoring twice in their last 31 innings played.

“That one feels really good, more importantly for the guys,” Suwinski said. “Everyone’s been working really hard and doing everything they can.”

The Pirates haven’t won many games lately and the offense has rarely put them in position for a victory. Yet management has remained steadfast in sticking with the regular lineup and believing those players can hit their way out of the slump.

Three hitters are tearing up the International League with Triple-A Indianapolis and there has been a clamoring in some circles to promote them.

Middle infielder Nick Gonzales is hitting .355/.415/.582 in 27 games. Four corners player Jake Lamb has a .392/.473/.608 slash line in 23 games. In 14 games, Ji Hwan Bae is batting .404/.523/.588.

It is easy to say any or all should immediately be promoted to the major leagues. However, all three have spotty histories in the big leagues.

Gonzales made his major-league debut last year and hit .209/.268/.348 in 35 games. Lamb is 33 and hasn’t spent a full year in the big leagues since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Bae got a long look last season when he played in 111 games but slashed just .231/.296/.311.

“Ultimately, we have to figure out what is going to be best for us moving forward and who the people are that are going to be,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “It doesn’t mean that we are going to make a change. It doesn’t mean we are not going to make a change. We got to weigh all the things out and see where we are at.”

It stands to reason that the Pirates aren’t convinced that Gonzales, Lamb and Bae could be difference makers. If so, they would already be with the big-league club.

For now, the Pirates will stick with what they have and hope the lineup can regain the form of the early days of the season. The Pirates averaged 6.0 runs a game during a 9-2 start.

“You have to stay positive, as hard as it is, and it’s challenging,” Shelton said. “I’m telling you from sitting in this chair but also sitting in the hitting coach chair. It’s challenging, man, because it’s not for lack of work, it’s not for lack of effort, it’s not for lack of trying.

“The biggest part of it is we have to realize this is a collective thing. We need to collectively but good at-bats together. It’s not just one guy who is going to magically appear and now we are in a better spot. As long as we are talking about it collectively and continuing kind of that next-man-up mentality, because early in the year when we were clicking offensively it was because we kept going. We kept extending innings. We kept doing that. Right now, we are not doing that. We have guys that are probably putting a little too much internal pressure on each at bat.”

The Pirates’ farm system is top-heavy with pitching prospects. Their only top-100 position player prospect is High-A Greensboro second baseman Termarr Johnson.

So, all the Pirates can do is ride it out and hope that better days are ahead.

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