Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cutch, Bucs back locked-in Locke, blast LA

 For nearly three months, Andrew McCutchen has not looked like himself at the plate. He's been physically compromised, mechanically off and statistically average. But Saturday night, he looked like Andrew McCutchen again. The Pirates' star center fielder homered twice, leading the Bucs to a 6-1 win over the Dodgers at PNC Park.
"That's what we do. We work at it every day," McCutchen said. "You just hope that the results will get there. It's not like I'm sitting around, hoping things change. I'm going out there, trying to get things done and getting things turned over. Tonight was a good night. Hopefully we'll be able to go from here."
McCutchen crushed two home runs off Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda. The first was a solo shot in the fourth inning, a 73-mph curveball that turned into a 427-foot blast. His three-run homer in the sixth was vintage McCutchen, turning on a 91 mph fastball and ripping it 400 feet into the left-field seats.
"He's going to get to somebody sooner or later," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It really doesn't matter who."
Slowed down by a swollen left thumb and uncharacteristically poor swings, McCutchen had been batting just .239 with a .717 OPS, and he'd hit one homer (on June 16) since May 27.
"He's one of the elite players in the game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of McCutchen. "You know he's going to come out of it at some point in time. You just hope we're out of town when that happens. He's obviously finding his stroke."
McCutchen's performance overshadowed another strong outing by left-hander Jeff Locke, who followed up a win over Madison Bumgarner and the Giants on Monday by outdueling Maeda and the Dodgers on Saturday. Maeda allowed four runs on four hits in five innings, his first time permitting four runs since May 22 in San Diego. Locke was perfect for five innings, before Scott Van Slyke and A.J. Ellis broke it up with back-to-back doubles in the sixth, and Locke ultimately allowed one run without a walk over seven innings.
Location, location, location: First-pitch strikes and well-positioned defenders played big parts in Locke's strong start. Locke recorded only one strikeout in the first five innings, but he got ahead of the Dodgers -- he threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the first 15 hitters he faced -- and let the Pirates' analytically influenced infield go to work. Even when they were out of position, the Pirates made plays -- look no further for proof than David Freese's running, overhead grab for the second out of the fifth inning.
"We were in really good spots tonight, as you saw," Hurdle said. "Really good stuff. Our analytics, [Dan] Fox and [Mike] Fitzgerald, setting these defenses have been very, very strong."
Trying too hard: After tying the game by doubling home Van Slyke in the sixth inning, Ellis was caught off second trying to get too much of a lead when Maeda, in a bunt situation, pulled the bat back and took a ball. Maeda followed with a line single. The Pirates scouting report noted that Ellis takes aggressive secondary leads off second base, Hurdle said, calling the play one of the tipping points of the game.
"I was anticipating contact, it was really bad baserunning, especially at that time," said Ellis. "Soon as the ball got through the hitting zone, I was in no-man's land, I was dead. It was a really good play by Erik Kratz."
Have Mercer: Quietly surging back from a mid-spring slump, Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercerextended his hitting streak to 10 games with a two-run shot into the bushes behind the center field fence in the sixth inning. Mercer's fourth homer of the season -- and his third of the month -- came against former teammate Joe Blanton and gave Pittsburgh a five-run lead.
Power outage: The Dodgers' streak of a home run in 14 consecutive games, longest since 2001, came to an end, but just barely. Pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick's eighth-inning double missed clearing the right-center fence by inches. The double moved Ellis to third with no outs, but Tony Watson struck out the top of the order -- Kik√© HernandezJustin Turner andCorey Seager -- to put down the threat.
"Watson started bearing down and making pitches," said Roberts. "He's got good stuff. He's one of best set-up guys in the game."
"If y'all don't listen to Adele, y'all don't like Christmas. Everybody loves Adele." --McCutchen, on his new walk-up song
The Pirates had gone a season-high 105 straight innings without an error when Sean Rodriguez made an errant throw to A.J. Schugel in the ninth inning. It was the club's longest such streak since going 112 frames without an error in 2007.
Locke has won his last five starts at PNC Park, with the Pirates going 15-7 in his 22 starts here since the start of last season. Locke is now 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA at PNC Park this season.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw starts for the Dodgers, need we say more? He currently leads the Majors in ERA (1.57), WHIP (0.67), strikeouts (141), opponents' batting average (.174) and innings pitched (115), while ranking among big league leaders in wins (11, T-2nd). Contrasting the 141 Ks, he has just seven walks in 115 innings (20.14 K/BB ratio). First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. PT.
Pirates: Right-hander Chad Kuhl, the Pirates' No. 16 prospect, will make his Major League debut on Sunday night against the Dodgers at PNC Park. Kuhl will be called up from Triple-A Indianapolis to at least temporarily fill the void in Pittsburgh's rotation left by Gerrit Cole's injury and Juan Nicasio's assignment to the bullpen. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.

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