Pirates notebook: Outfield struggling during recent skid

September 1, 2018
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte singles during the sixth inning against the Cubs on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at PNC Park.

The hot bats of outfielders Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco helped spark an 11-game winning streak that put the Pittsburgh Pirates back into wild-card contention after the All-Star break.

Those bats cooled in recent weeks as the Pirates slid back to .500 entering Friday’s game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

Dickerson, Marte and Polanco, who occupy the top three spots in the batting order, were hitting a combined .156 (21 for 135) since Aug. 4, with six walks, 39 strikeouts, six extra-base hits -- including just one home run -- 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored, coinciding with a 4-8 stretch for the team.

The same trio hit .336 (43 for 128) with 27 extra-base hits, including 16 homers, 36 RBIs and 31 runs scored during the 11-game winning streak that stretched from July 11-24.

“It’s not what they want,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They all want to go out there and have good at-bats and have good results. What I consistently challenge them with is for the fight and the effort and the preparation and the focus.”

Marte’s average has dropped from .292 to .276 and Dickerson’s from .318 to .303 since July 24. Polanco raised his average to .254 on July 31; it was down to .239 entering Friday.

Hurdle said he evaluates whether to make a change in the batting order, but he believes those three “have shown some signs of getting closer.”

Dickerson, who was out from July 24 until Aug. 4 with a strained hamstring, had two hits Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins and another Thursday against the Cubs after a 1-for-18 stretch in his previous five games. Polanco struck out four times Tuesday and three times Thursday but had two RBIs on Wednesday. Marte had hits in three consecutive games entering Friday.

“We’re way better than what we’re doing right now,” Dickerson said. “It’s just the fact that maybe one of us is trying to pick up the slack. When I went down, maybe they thought they had to pick up slack and put more pressure on themselves than they have to. Now we can just go back to relax and try to have fun and play each other’s game and not worry about trying to pick up anybody’s slack.”

Left turn

The Pirates are facing three left-handed starters against the Cubs. Jon Lester pitched Thursday and Cole Hamels on Friday for Chicago, with Jose Quintana scheduled for Sunday.

David Freese batted cleanup for the second consecutive game, making his 11th start this month. The veteran infielder was hitting .308 in August.

The frequent games against lefties have left fewer opportunities for Colin Moran, who has just 56 plate appearances against southpaws this season.

“We’ve found (Moran) some at-bats and some starts against left-handed pitching this year,” Hurdle said. “At this point in time in the season, I think we’ve got probably a better option to play at third base to take those at-bats right now. He’ll be able to help us off the bench, maybe a double switch in the game. That’s part of the growth process, the learning process at the major-league level.”

Hanging Chad

Injured pitcher Chad Kuhl took the first step in his recovery from a strained right forearm, playing catch before Friday’s game for the first time since his injury.

Kuhl, 5-5 with a 4.55 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 85 games, last pitched June 26. The right-hander is currently on the 60-day disabled list.

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