PIRATES – DODGERS REACTIONS
By John Perrotto
Andrew McCutchen is hot. Very hot.
McCutchen went 3-for-3 with a walk on Saturday and scored the go-ahead run as the Pirates held off the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-5 at PNC Park.
The superstar center fielder is 13-for-29 (.448) with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored in his last nine games. He has been on base in 14 of his last 18 plate appearances.
“No. 22 is doing what No. 22 does,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s fun to watch. He has a lot of confidence in the box. Good balance. Hitting hard pitchers. Hitting soft pitches. Timely hits. Battle at-bats. Multiple-pitch at-bats. Getting good looks. Taking walks when they’re there. Not expanding the zone. He’s in a good place in the batter’s box.
“He’s the guy.”
Indeed, he is.
With the score tied 4-4, McCutchen led off the third inning with a double, stole third and came home on Jung Ho Kang’s ground out before Neil Walker hit his 11th home run.
McCutchen has been the guy for a long time, the linchpin behind the Pirates going from laughingstock to a team with a good chance of reaching the postseason for a third consecutive season.
In fact, it is hard to believe some people were questioning whether McCutchen was still an elite player just three months ago.
After the Pirates lost 3-0 to the Cincinnati Reds on May 6 at PNC Park, McCutchen’s batting average was a paltry .188 through 26 games. He had just two home runs and a .571 OPS. His National League Most Valuable Player award from 2013 seemed like it was won in 1913.
However, McCutchen has been on fire ever since, hitting .338 with 14 home runs in his last 79 games. The Pirates are 52-27 in those 79 games.
“He’s having one of the best stretches I’ve seen him have,” Hurdle said. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”
–Most of the questions asked to left-hander Francisco Liriano after the game centered around hitting the first home run of his 10-year career. Liriano hit a three-run opposite-field shot to left field off Mat Latos in the third inning in his 160th career at-bat.
It turns out that Liriano isn’t much more expansive when it comes talking about hitting as he is when he talks about pitching.
“I was just trying to put a good swing on it and I was lucky enough that it went out,” Liriano said.
Hurdle was much more impressed — and humored — by the homer.
“It was like Halley’s Comet,” Hurdle said with a laugh. “I always kid him — can I see a home run in my lifetime? As many as he has hit in batting practice, I’ve been waiting for this. The way it played out, it was a big home run.”
There wasn’t much to ask about Liriano’s pitching, though, as he lasted three innings and gave up four runs and seven hits while walking two and striking out four. He needed 80 pitches to get nine outs.
The line and the work on the mound led me to believe we should head in another direction and not fight it,” Hurdle said of his decision to give Liriano an early hook.
The Pirates took Liriano off the hook for the loss with their two-run third and he remains unbeaten in seven starts since June 20. He also continued to struggle at home as he is 3-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts at PNC Park this season, as opposed to 4-2 with a 2.11 ERA in nine road starts.
–Right-hander Joe Blanton came on to start the fourth inning in place of Liriano and restored order by pitching innings for the win.
It was Blanton’s first victory since being acquired from the Kansas City Royals in a cash transaction July 30. He has now pitched twice for the Pirates and allowed only one run in five innings.
The Pirates got a chance to see Blanton as opponent on July 21 in a win at Kansas City. The 34-year-old come on relief in the second inning when left-handed starter Jason Vargas injured his elbow and pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings to get the win in the Royals’ 3-1 victory.
“When you’re there and you watch our hitters and the swings they’re taking and the command of the fastball and the shape of the slider and the swing and miss, it all made an impression,” Hurdle said. “You only get one chance to make a first impression and he made a good one.
“One of the reasons we got him is because he can pitch through a lineup. He had a really clean outing (Saturday) and he got better and stronger as it went on.”
–Right-hander Vance Worley, who was designated for assignment when the Pirates acquired Blanton, has cleared waivers and the Pirates are waiting to see if he will accept an outright assignment to Class AAA Indianapolis.
If Worley does go to Indianapolis — and he would forfeit the remainder of his $2.45-million salary if he elects free agency — the 27-year-old will pitch in the starting rotation.
Worley was 2-4 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts this season and 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 relief appearances.