Friday, May 29, 2015

Kang, Marte, Polanco homer in Pirates' 11-5 win vs Padres

By Bernie Wilson
May 29, 2015
Kang, Marte, Polanco homer in Pirates' 11-5 win vs Padres
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, left, celebrates with Starling Marte after Marte's two-run home run against San Diego Padres during the third inning in a baseball game Thursday, May 28, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Don Boomer)

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- An early home run barrage carried A.J. Burnett and the Pittsburgh Pirates to their seventh straight win, 11-5 against the San Diego Padres on Thursday night.

Pitching Details

Jung Ho Kang hit a three-run homer and Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco also went deep off Ian Kennedy in support of Burnett (5-1), who won his fifth straight start. Andrew McCutchenNeil Walkerand Francisco Cervelli each had three of the Pirates' 15 hits.
Pirates starters are 7-0 during the winning streak.
''The game's kind of funny,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''We've had times here where the starters don't get any wins. It just depends on when you score runs, how it lines up. It's just one of those strange sequences of the game. It's nice to see that when the starters pitch well they do get a mark that falls in the right column.''
Burnett deflected praise to the hitters.
''It's a nice little run the offense is on,'' Burnett said. ''They came out swinging the bats tonight. They're playing hard all the way around. It's fun to be a part of.''
The Pirates' first six runs scored on homers, including no-doubters by Kang and Polanco. Kang's shot with two outs in the first, his third, went an estimated 430 feet into the second deck in left field. Polanco led off the second with a 414-foot homer to center, his second.
Marte hit a two-run shot in the third, his 10th. McCutchen was aboard on a leadoff single.
Burnett allowed five runs, four earned, and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out six and walked two.
''He's had a very good start to the season,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''We could have defended better to help him. Probably would have kept some of the stress off in the fourth and fifth.''
After jumping to a 7-0 lead, the Pirates allowed two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings.
''The game's kind of funny,'' Hurdle said. ''We've had times here where the starters don't get any wins. It just depends on when you score runs, how it lines up. It's just one of those strange sequences of the game. It's nice to see that when the starters pitch well they do get a mark that falls in the right column.''
Kennedy (2-5) was chased by McCutchen's RBI double with two outs in the fourth. He lost his fourth straight start, allowing seven hits and seven runs, striking out five and walking two. Kennedy has allowed seven homers and 20 earned runs in his last four starts.
''It's really frustrating,'' Kennedy said. ''Fastball command was all over the place. They hit a couple of breaking balls for homers. It's really, really frustrating, really inconsistent, not what I like to do. As a pitcher you try to go out there and be as consistent as possible. This has been a real test so far, the first month or so that I've pitched.''
Josh Harrison and McCutchen hit RBI doubles in the four-run sixth and two runs scored on shortstopAlexi Amarista's throwing error.
Padres: RHP Brandon Morrow, on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw 45 pitches in a simulated game. He'll throw again during the weekend and if all goes well, could be sent out for a rehab start.
Pirates: LHP Francisco Liriano (2-4, 3.86) is 1-2 with a 2.42 ERA in four career starts against San Diego.
Padres: Ace James Shields (6-0, 3.75) makes his first career start against the Pirates.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pirates rally past Marlins 5-2 for 6th straight win

By Will Graves
May 27, 2015

Pirates rally past Marlins 5-2 for 6th straight win

Pittsburgh Pirates' Gerrit Cole (45) delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mired in a funk a quarter of the way into a season with high expectations, Clint Hurdle challenged his team to get its act together.

Pitching Details

A week later, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates were listening.
Jung Ho Kang capped a late rally with a two-run single and the Pirates ran their winning streak to six games with a 5-2 victory over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday.
''For way too long we were a good team playing mediocre baseball, so you're not a good team really,'' Hurdle said. ''You've got to connect the dots. You've got to put parts of the game in play.''
At the moment, they're all firing for the Pirates, who won for the first time this season when trailing after six innings. Pittsburgh scored five times with two outs in the seventh off the Miami bullpen to extend its longest surge since it won nine straight in June, 2013.
''We've got our swag back out there,'' catcher Chris Stewart said. ''You can't foresee it, but we're as good as any team in baseball, especially the way we're playing right now. We feel like we can keep it going.''

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Josh Harrison and Pedro Alvarez added RBI singles while Starling Marte worked a rare bases-loaded walk. Gerrit Cole (7-2) struck out seven in seven efficient innings. Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 12th save as Pittsburgh completed an eight-game homestand with a flourish.
''We start chipping away and put the pressure on them and that's what it's all about,'' Stewart said, ''putting the pressure on them, forcing them to make good pitches out there.''
The Pirates spent five innings getting handcuffed by Miami starter Brad Hand but jumped on relieversMike Dunn and Sam Dyson (2-2).
Dunn retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh before Stewart singled. Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata then smacked a grounder to second base that deflected off Dee Gordon's glove and into shallow center field.
Dyson took over for Dunn and promptly gave up a single to Harrison that brought Pittsburgh to 2-1. Pinch-hitter Alvarez beat the shift by slashing a single through the left side of the infield to tie the game. Andrew McCutchen walked to load the bases to set up Marte.
Usually free-swinging Starling Marte - who leads the Pirates in strikeouts - then worked the count full against Dyson and held off on a breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone to force home Harrison and give the Pirates the lead. Kang lined a single over Gordon's glove to push Pittsburgh's advantage to 5-2.
''It was hard to take,'' Marte said with a laugh. ''I've been swinging at that pitch pretty much (all year).''
Not this time. When Kang followed with a liner over Gordon's head the Pirates were two games over .500 and suddenly looking like the team that still expects to challenge St. Louis and improving Chicago in the NL Central.
''We're making it tough for the other team to get us out,'' McCutchen said. ''We scratch and claw and that's what makes us a good team.''
Justin Bour and Christian Yelich hit solo homers for the Marlins, who fell to 2-8 under manager Dan Jennings. Miami had been 12-0 when leading after six innings but were swept for the sixth time this season when Pittsburgh got going.
Hand, pressed into his first start of the season when injuries forced Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos to the disabled list, kept the Pirates off balance. Pittsburgh managed just four hits with Hand on the mound and Miami appeared to be in decent shape when Bour and Yelich both sent Cole offerings into the seats in right field to stake the Marlins to a 2-0 lead. Dee Gordon added two hits to push his major league-leading average to .376 but Miami dropped to 1-11 in its last 12 games at PNC Park.
''I still believe in these guys,'' Jennings said. ''There's a heck of a lot of talent out there that's showing positive things. But you have to execute pitches in situations to get the outs and shut down innings like that when they're getting away from you. ''
Marlins: RHP Jose Fernandez was scheduled to throw a simulated game on Wednesday as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery in 2014. ... RHP Jarred Cosart was scheduled to throw off the mound on Wednesday as he begins to come back from a bout with vertigo.
Marlins: Miami is off Thursday and will spend the weekend in New York to face the Mets. New York swept a four-game series from the Marlins at Citi Field in April. Dan Haren (4-2, 3.09) starts for Miami.
Pirates: Pittsburgh begins a 10-game road trip on Thursday night when it begins a four-game set in San Diego. A.J. Burnett (4-1, 1.37) will look for his fifth straight win.

Kang story of the year for Pirates

Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 10:42 p.m.

It was, perhaps, the worst interview ever conducted through an interpreter. Maybe the worst interview ever conducted, period, in any language, anywhere on the planet.
And I'll take most of the credit for that.
A bunch of us were gathered around Jung Ho Kang's locker after the Pirates' 5-2 victory over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday when the conversation veered from Kang's clutch two-run single to his personal life.
That was my mistake. I failed to read the play. The Pirates were hustling to their San Diego-bound charter flight. This was no time for Oprah-style revelations.
That said, I'm still not sure how Kang's answers, upon translation, came out as one word. He certainly appeared to be using more than one.
But here you go:
Question: “What has been the single biggest difficulty in adjusting to American culture?”
Answer (Kang, through interpreter H.K. Kim): “Nothing.”
Q: “What do you like best about it?”
A: “The girls. Joking. … The food. Everything.”
Q: “Any (food) in particular? I heard you like cheeseburgers.”
A: “Steak.”
At that point, I should have quit while I was behind. Kim kept looking at his watch. Colleagues bolted for other parts of the clubhouse. It felt like a fraternity party the minute the keg runs dry. But I wanted to clear something up.
Remember when Kang arrived in Bradenton and delivered an epic line when asked if he had any hobbies?
“I like to hang out with my friends and girlfriend,” he said then. “But I don't have a girlfriend here, so I'm looking for a new hobby.”
That led to this question: “Back in spring training, you said you were looking for a girlfriend. Do you have one yet?”
“No,” he said.
“No,” Kim repeated.
The answer, quite clearly, is no. But when it comes to the important stuff — Kang's game on the field — all the pertinent questions have been answered with a resounding YES! YES! YES! so far.
Even accounting for the likes of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Cervelli and Wednesday's winner, Gerrit Cole, Kang has been the Pirates' story of the year (those three, by the way, all go far to the plus side of GM Neal Huntington's ledger).
Kang emerged from Wednesday's game leading the team in batting average (.313) and on-base percentage (.378). He also provided maybe the most compelling testimony yet of his remarkable ability to adjust, be it to a radically different culture, a string of ugly at-bats or a reliever who hops like the Easter Bunny on his way to home plate.
The man has shown zero bashfulness.
Former major leaguer C.J. Nitkowski, who played with and against Kang in Korea, was one of the people the Pirates queried when researching Kang. In a New York Times article last weekend, Nitkowski said this of Kang: “He was a good kid, an aggressive, alpha-male type, who wanted to be great. You wouldn't have to worry about him being timid or scared coming here.”
Earlier in the game, Kang had looked great at third base, stabbing a shot from Giancarlo Stanton (exit velocity: 115 mph) but awful at the plate, striking out on a pitch that hit him in the ankle.
Had he ever done that before?
“First time,” he said.
Kang was 0 for 3 when he walked to the plate in the seventh to face that mad-hopper reliever, Carter Capps. The Pirates had taken a 3-2 lead — scoring all three runs with two out — when Kang fell into an 0-2 hole. He took a ball in the dirt and fouled one off before jumping on a fastball and drilling it to right-center field. It brought home two insurance runs and extended his hitting streak to nine games.
“He's shown an ability to hunt RBIs,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
I asked Kang, through Kim, about adjusting to Capps.
“It wasn't the pitcher,” he said. “It was me that was struggling in earlier at-bats. So I made an adjustment to put a good swing on the ball.”
He added, “It was a tight situation. I felt the team really needed insurance to win the ballgame.”
That's Kang so far: delivering whatever the Pirates need.
You wonder where they'd be without him.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pirates run win streak to 5, top Marlins 5-1

By Will Graves
May 26, 2015

Pirates run win streak to 5, top Marlins 5-1
Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker rounds second after hitting a two-run home run off Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena during the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jeff Locke doesn't have the same electric stuff as the other four guys in Pittsburgh's rotation.

Pitching Details

The left-hander has to find different ways to put up zeros. When his curveball obeys the way it did in Tuesday night's 5-1 win over Miami, Locke fits in quite well.
Avoiding the major trouble that has plagued him at times this season, Locke tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings to pick up his first victory in nearly six weeks and extend Pittsburgh's winning streak to five.
From Locke's perspective, he is just trying to keep pace on a rotation that ranks second in the majors in ERA behind the power arms of A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.
''Everybody has been throwing the ball so well,'' Locke said. ''You never want to feel like the weakest link, not that you ever do. You never want to feel like you let anybody down. You just want to keep it going as long as you can.''
Locke (3-2) wasn't exactly crisp, needing 104 pitches to get 17 outs while walking four and striking out six. Yet he wriggled free whenever Miami threatened. The Marlins left 10 runners on base and went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

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Neil Walker hit a two-run homer as the Pirates moved back above .500 (23-22), and Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang had two hits apiece. Pittsburgh is batting .306 during its winning streak while raising its team batting average to .250. Heady territory considering the Pirates were mired around .220 at the beginning of the month.
''It's been more consistent team at-bats,'' Harrison said. ''You know early in the year we showed flashes of here or there but it wasn't throughout the lineup. That's how we are when our whole lineup is like that, we're a dangerous team.''
Miami rookie Jose Urena (0-1) failed to make it out of the fifth inning in his first big league start, giving up five runs in 4 2/3 innings. Martin Prado had an RBI double and Christian Yelich added two hits for Miami, which fell to 2-7 under manager Dan Jennings.
The Marlins recalled the 23-year-old Urena from Triple-A earlier in the day to make a spot start for a rotation beset by injuries. Urena was an impressive 4-0 with a 1.22 ERA in the minors, but the Pirates made quick work of his mid-90s fastball and scored all five of their runs with two outs.
''I felt when I had two strikes that I had the hitter done already,'' Urena said. ''I made a mistake up in the zone and those are things you learn as a rookie. You can't stop until you get to three outs.''
Kang singled home Harrison to give Pittsburgh the lead in the first. Harrison - who has multiple hits in six of his last 11 games - doubled home Jordy Mercer in the third and Walker then sliced his third homer of the season into the seats in left field.
That was more than enough to put away the Marlins, who have lost 13 of their last 16 games, a stretch that included Jennings replacing Mike Redmond. Third base coach Brett Butler was reassigned Tuesday morning, but Jennings declined to get into specifics. Lenny Harris took over for Butler in what Jennings expects to be a smooth transition.
There were no obvious issues. Then again, Harris didn't have much to do.
Locke came in winless in his previous six starts as his ERA ballooned to 5.28, easily the worst among the starters. He seemed to find something during a no-decision against Minnesota last week, settling down after giving up three runs in the first.
The 2013 All-Star kept it going against the Marlins, pitching carefully to Giancarlo Stanton and taking his chances with the rest of Miami's struggling lineup. Locke's solid outing came after he gave his usually bushy black curls a trim earlier in the day. The clean-cut look worked in his first scoreless appearance since last August.
Marlins: 1B Michael Morse was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained ligament in his right ring finger to make room for Urena. ... RHP Jose Fernandez will throw a simulated game on Wednesday as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. ... RHP Henderson Alvarez is focusing on strengthening his ailing right shoulder and has not been cleared to throw. ... RHPs Jarred Cosart and Mat Latos will work off the mound later this week.
The Pirates go for their second straight series sweep and third of the season on Wednesday when Cole (6-2, 2.05 ERA) tries for his seventh win of the season. Cole tossed a career-high 8 1/3 innings and struck out 10 in a victory over the New York Mets last Friday. The Marlins, who have already been swept five times, will send out lefthander Brad Hand (0-1, 5.48) for his first start of the season.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Morton solid in return as Pirates top Marlins 4-2

By Will Graves
May 26, 2015

Morton solid in return as Pirates top Marlins 4-2
Pittsburgh Pirates' Charlie Morton delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Charlie Morton spent much of the offseason waiting for his surgically repaired hip to heal and most of spring training waiting for his form to return.

Pitching Details

When it didn't, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander went on a six-week journey to rebuild his delivery from the ground up. The result looked - and felt - awfully familiar. His sinker forcing the Marlins to pound the ball into the PNC Park turf with alarming frequency, Morton pitched seven solid innings in his first start in more than eight months in a 4-2 win on Monday night.
''I think it was just a relief,'' Morton said. ''I knew my stuff was pretty good during rehab starts. I knew I was getting ground balls and swings and misses. I knew it was good enough to get big-league hitters out but to go out and do it is really (something different).''
Morton (1-0) gave up two runs on eight hits, striking out three while getting 18 outs on groundballs. He needed only 87 pitches while leading the Pirates to their fourth straight win.
''My stroke is a little bit better, more fluid,'' Morton said. ''My timing is a little bit better. My direction. Everything is a little bit better overall. Those are things I can keep tweaking, fine tuning and get better. That was the best I felt in awhile.''
And it's arguably the best the Pirates have looked all season. Pittsburgh moved back to .500 (22-22) behind Morton's efficient work and home runs by Francisco Cervelli and Pedro Alvarez.

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Mired in a funk last week, manager Clint Hurdle challenged his team to get its act together. The Pirates have responded by outscoring opponents 25-6 during their current run.
''We're playing the kind of baseball we're capable of,'' Morton said. ''We have to play hungry.''
Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his 11th save as the Pirates improved to 9-1 in their last 10 home games against the Marlins.
Giancarlo Stanton hit his 13th homer and drove in two for the Marlins while adding a spectacular catch against the wall in right field. David Phelps (2-2) surrendered four runs in six innings. The Marlins fell to 2-6 under new manager Dan Jennings.
''We had some chances,'' Jennings said. ''(Phelps) gave us an opportunity to hang in there. We had some chances, we just didn't get the hit there when the opportunities presented itself.''
Morton underwent surgery last September to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. The team expected him to be part of the rotation when this season began, but his progress stalled on the eve of the opener and he was given extra time work on his mechanics. Morton seemed to find something over his final three rehab starts, going 2-1 with a 1.33 ERA.
That momentum carried over to a team that's spent the first two months of the season searching for consistency. Morton gave up a first inning run whenDee Gordon led off with an infield single and later scored on a single by Stanton. Morton escaped further damage by getting Justin Bour to hit into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play, starting a pattern that would repeat several times over.
Whenever Miami tried to get something going, Morton would roll out a two-seam fastball that the Marlins would pound into the dirt. Miami didn't produce one fly ball out against Morton. Stanton's home run to the seats in right field in the third marked one of the few times the Marlins got the ball in the air at all.
Cervelli gave Morton some room to work in the second when he sent a Phelps offering over the wall in right to make it 3-1. It was Cervelli's first homer with the Pirates and the first given up by Phelps this season. Stanton's shot drew Miami within 3-2, but Alvarez's fourth homer in his last eight games just cleared the wall to the left of the notch in left-center to push Pittsburgh's lead back to 4-2.
Phelps, who had been unbeaten on the road this season, walked two and struck out four.
Marlins: Jennings is optimistic RHP Mat Latos will be back relatively quickly after going on the 15-day DL last Friday with knee inflammation. ... RHPHenderson Alvarez continues to work on strengthening exercises for his ailing right shoulder. Alvarez underwent a second MRI on the shoulder on Sunday but it's still unclear what the next step will be in the evaluation process.
Pirates: With Morton back in the rotation, the Pirates designated RHP Radhames Liz for assignment. Liz was 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 games in his return to the big leagues after six-year absence.
Miami will call up RHP Jose Urena from Triple-A to take Latos' spot in the rotation. Urena made two relief appearances for the Marlins last month. Jeff Locke (2-2, 5.28) starts for the Pirates. The 2013 All-Star is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in his last six starts.