MLB: Bats come alive at right time for Pirates
PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates hope they’ve finally put an end to their hitting woes.
McCutchen hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning and drove in three runs to lead Pittsburgh past the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 on Friday night.
The Pirates entered the game batting .153, the second-worst average for a major league team through nine games since 1921. The 2003 Detroit Tigers hit .140 in their first nine games on the way to a 119-loss season.
McCutchen’s leadoff shot to left field off J.J. Hoover (0-3), his second homer of the season, snapped a 5-all tie.
Cincinnati had just tied the score in the top of the seventh on Brandon Phillips’ second home run of the game, a two-run drive to center off Tony Watson (1-0).
“It was important for us to answer back right away,” McCutchen said. “That’s the type of team we are. We’re fighters.”
The first four batters in Pittsburgh’s lineup — Starling Marte, Neil Walker, McCutchen and Garrett Jones — each had two hits as the Pirates totaled 12.
Every Pirates position player had a hit by the end of the fifth inning.
“This is what we’re capable of doing,” McCutchen said.
“We have good hitters in our lineup,” McCutchen added. It’s a matter of getting in that Michael Jordan-type mentality where you start thinking that you can outdo the next guy. That’s how we were tonight. One guy started hitting, then everyone else did. That’s how it’s always been in baseball.”
Hoover took over the big league lead in losses after giving up the decisive homer to McCutchen.
“It seems like he leaves that one pitch out over the plate and they’re not missing it,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “You’re going to give it up sometimes and he gave it up to one of the best. McCutchen isn’t a slouch. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Walker and McCutchen hit consecutive two-run singles in the second to give Pittsburgh a 5-1 lead.
Marte extended his streak of multihit games to six. He is 12-for-24 during that stretch. The leadoff batter also has had a hit in the first inning in each of those six games.
“He may not be the typical leadoff hitter who draws a lot of walks, but the thing he does well is that he swings at good pitches,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “When he sees the first hittable pitch, he goes after it aggressively and puts a good swing on it.”
The Pirates had not scored more than four runs in any of their previous 13 games against the NL Central rival Reds. Pittsburgh has won three of four overall after starting the season 1-5.
Phillips hit a leadoff homer in the second inning off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. The cleanup-hitting second baseman has four home runs this season and 10 career two-homer games.
“He hit two home runs to straightaway center and you just don’t see that very often in this ballpark,” Hurdle said. “That was impressive.”
However, Phillips struck out to end the game with runners on first and second as Jason Grilli pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fourth save in as many opportunities.
Burnett went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits. He struck out eight and walked three.
“I need to start working deeper into games,” said Burnett, pulled after 106 pitches. “I’m trying to throw nasty pitches to get strikeouts when I don’t necessarily make nasty pitches and it’s running up my pitch counts.”
Cincinnati starter Mike Leake is now winless in eight career starts at PNC Park, more than any visiting pitcher in the history of the 12-year-old ballpark. He gave up five runs and 10 hits in six innings with two walks and two strikeouts.
“He really settled down after those first two innings and gave us some innings, which is important with the stretch of schedule we’re facing now where we can’t afford to blow out the bullpen,” said Baker, whose team began a string of playing on 20 consecutive days.
Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin, who entered with a .043 batting average, singled home a run in the first inning to open the scoring.
After Walker and McCutchen gave the Pirates a four-run lead in the second, Cincinnati cut the deficit to 5-3 as Punxsutawney native Devin Mesoraco drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth and then hit an RBI double in the sixth.
NOTES: Pittsburgh designated RHP Chris Leroux for assignment and recalled RHP Bryan Morris from Triple-A Indianapolis. Morris arrived in time for the game but did not pitch. ... Burnett is two strikeouts shy of 2,000 for his career. ... RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 2.77 ERA) starts tonight for the Reds against Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 6.00). Cueto has a 12-4 lifetime record against Pittsburgh. ... Pirates LHP Wandy Rodriguez, who left his start Monday at Arizona with a strained left hamstring in the third inning, played catch before Friday’s game. But no official starter for Sunday, when Rodriguez’ spot comes up, has been named. … Baker decided to give C Ryan Hanigan and 3B Todd Frazier the night off Friday. Hanigan is hitting .043 with one hit in 23 at-bats and Frazier is hitless in his last 11 at-bats.