Pirates use day off to regroup, take focus off six-game skid
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON -- For a team that has lost six consecutive games, a day off may give the Pirates a chance to regroup.

[IMGL]http://i54.tinypic.com/2mn42p.jpg[/IMGL]"That's exactly what I was thinking," closer Joel Hanrahan said regarding the prospect of a fresh start. "We've had a tough stretch, and [we're] going into a tough place tomorrow to play in Cincinnati. It's nice to get a day off, work on some things that you want to work on in the cage or on the mound or whatever."

Thunderstorms in the forecast caused Tuesday's game against the Washington Nationals to be postponed more than three hours before it was scheduled to start. A makeup date will be announced soon. The Pirates travel to Cincinnati for a two-game series against the Reds beginning tonight.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said only the Pirates' play tonight will determine if the day off helped the team, but that the bullpen will benefit from some extra rest.

"We were getting a little itchy out there," he said. "We had a couple of guys [Monday] that we wanted to stay away from."

Despite the six consecutive losses, the players have stayed positive.

"The morale in the clubhouse has been good," infielder Brandon Wood said. "Clint does a good job of keeping a positive note in the clubhouse. When your manager's like that it seeps through the players.

"There's nobody who wants to win more than him. I've only been over here for a few weeks now but during the games he'll let you know when you're doing well and he'll let you know there's a play that you made that he'd like you to do differently."

Hurdle would like to see a different approach to hitting with runners in scoring position. In the 4-2 loss to the Nationals Monday, the Pirates had 10 hits but were 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

"The last two games we've banged the ball with better productivity," Hurdle said. "We still have to answer the bell with runners in scoring position. That's been a theme for six weeks. That hasn't changed. They're aware of it.

"Somebody's got to spread the elixir out there that it's not a 'try harder' situation. The pitcher's the one in peril. Look for a spot, look for a zone. Don't change lanes every pitch. Look for one thing, one spot. If it's not there, with two strikes, make an adjustment. Hit with confidence. Hit with bad intentions."

Wood said Hurdle recently stressed similar ideas to him when Wood entered a game as a pinch-hitter.

"He said 'Listen, when you go in to pinch-hit, the pressure's on them,'" Wood said. "It's harder to get a hit than it is for that guy to get you out, so there's no pressure."

The Pirates took three of four games from the Reds, who lead the National League Central, at Great American Ball Park in April and entered Tuesday six games back in the division.

"It's an aggressive swinging team they have there," Hanrahan said. "We're familiar with them a little bit. We're not intimidated when we go in there. We like our chances there."

The Pirates were one game over .500, 18-17, May 9, but the six losses in a row dropped them to 18-23. They lost two games at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers and three on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers before losing Monday night in Washington.

"The one thing I've encouraged the guys that I've talked to [Tuesday], a week ago we were 18-17," Hurdle said. "A lot can happen in a week, but you just got to take care of today."