NEW YORK -- The main interpretation of Clint Hurdle's year-long mantra -- Finish! -- will not be realized. This Pirates season is heading toward a finish as unsatisfactory as the last one.However, one notable element of that command -- "Finish the batter" -- is being followed in a record-setting way. On Tuesday night, Pittsburgh pitchers surpassed the club record for most strikeouts in a season, the 1,124 rung up by the 1969 staff. It is a noteworthy achievement mostly as an execution of the team's design of moving away from the pitch-to-contact staff that last season ranked last in the National League in strikeouts. "We've been able to come through and succeed along those lines," Hurdle nodded. "We put in place a plan, and stayed with it, and it has produced some good results." The deliberate search for pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff led to A.J. Burnett, who tops the staff with 172 strikeouts, and to left-hander Erik Bedard, who fanned 118 before being released in late August. Another considerable jolt has come from Jason Grilli, the veteran reliever who has been striking people out (84 in 55 2/3 innings) as never before. Hurdle and his boss have been aware of the growing strikeout haul. "[GM Neal Huntington] and I couldn't wrap our minds around that, other than ... we're going to strike out the most batters any Pirates team has ever struck out," said Hurdle, whose unwrapped mind was blown most by something his pitchers had accomplished during last weekend in Houston. The Bucs had 12 strikeouts in each of the three games, a franchise first in the modern era. "That's what absolutely just electrified me, something that has not happened at least since nine-teen-hundred," said Hurdle, just like that, emphasizing each syllable.
Walker's slump coincides with Pirates' swoon
NEW YORK -- The Pirates have had all the wheels fall off -- or at least go flat -- in their month-long spinout. In hindsight, however, perhaps nothing applied more drag than Neil Walker's quiet bat. Missing nearly three weeks around the turn into the September stretch silenced that bat altogether. And even before and since, Walker's usual production dried up.He has not driven in a run since Aug. 24, which does include the time down with lower back tightness. While making a gradual return from that, both the timing and opportunities have been lacking. "No part of this thing has been easy or fun," Walker said Tuesday, another down day for him as Josh Harrison started at second base against the Mets. "Since coming back [on Sept. 14], maybe I've had three at-bats with men in scoring position. Yeah, I haven't hit any balls out of the ballpark." Walker hit his 14th and most recent home run on Aug. 8, in the course of a five-RBI game against Arizona. Since, he has driven in a total of four runs in 78 at-bats. After that big day against the D-backs, Walker had 65 RBIs, second on the team to Andrew McCutchen's 69 and way ahead of a couple of teammates who have long since passed him: Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez had 52 and 58 RBIs, respectively. The two had 79 and 81 RBIs, respectively, entering Tuesday night's game. "Getting hurt when I did, absolutely horrible timing, was just throwing salt into the wound," Walker said of his team's swoon. "Then you try to come back right in the fire after being down three weeks. I'm not trying to make excuses, because we always win and lose together."
The Bucs' poor performance hitting with runners in scoring position is reflected by the fact they have actually outhit the opposition in five of their last 11 losses, dating back to the Sept. 10-12 series in Cincinnati. Walker has gone 43 at-bats since his last extra-base hit, a double on Aug. 21. Andrew McCutchen's triple in the eighth-inning of Monday's game was the Bucs' 35th of the season, matching last year's total. The last time the club had more was in 2005 (38).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.