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Pirates bats remain quiet in 6-1 loss to Braves

September 8, 2018
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Pirates manager Clint Hurdle looks out from the dugout during a game against the Braves Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, at PNC Park.

After the Pirates’ 6-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, the lights in manager Clint Hurdle’s office and the video room next door to it probably burned well past midnight.

“We have some challenges in front of us that we have to figure out,” Hurdle said after his team had completed another futile offensive effort. “We talked about some things in there that we’ll get back to when I’m finished here (talking to reporters).”

All that separated the Pirates from their fourth shutout in the past six games was Gregory Polanco’s first-pitch home run into the right-field seats to lead off the ninth inning.

The good news is Polanco leads the Pirates in home runs with 20; the bad news is it was his first in August.

The Pirates have scored six runs in six home games since Thursday, and their five-hit effort Tuesday sent many in a PNC Park crowd of 13,280 home early.

Including the final five innings of a 6-4 loss in Minnesota last Wednesday, they have played 60 innings and scored in only four of them.

What changes can Hurdle make?

He has been forced to adjust his batting order for a variety of reasons:

• Chief among them is Starling Marte’s hitting slump and benching for failing to hustle Sunday. Marte didn’t start the 1-0 loss to the Braves on Monday and was a defensive replacement Tuesday after visiting a doctor for an undisclosed reason. He has 10 hits in his past 60 at-bats.

• Since hitting the winning home run Sunday and moving into Marte’s No. 2 spot in the order, Adam Frazier is 0 for 8.

• Josh Harrison’s sore hamstring hasn’t helped, either. He pinch-hit a single Tuesday, but he didn’t play Monday. Rookie Kevin Newman is 0 for 6 as a replacement.

• Shortstop Jordy Mercer is on the disabled list with a calf strain. In Mercer’s place, Adeiny Hechavarria is flashing a slick glove and a .286 batting average, but he grounded into a double play with runners on first and third in the second inning.

“Your personnel is your personnel,” Hurdle said. “Can we adjust the lineup, look at some different things? We’ve talked about it. It’s been hard. These guys are battling.

“Guys are doing different things to try and change up some things. Some guys are swinging more. Some guys are swinging at spin, swinging (at) velocity, not taking so much.”

Maybe one more take might have helped in the sixth inning.

The game’s outcome was still in doubt when the Pirates -- trailing, 2-0 -- loaded the bases against Braves starting pitcher Kevin Gausman.

With two outs, Polanco walked after barely missing a home run, but cleanup hitter Josh Bell, who has hit only eight home runs this season, grounded out to shortstop while swinging at the first pitch.

“We worked 24 pitches and got the bases loaded, and it was a one-pitch out,” Hurdle said.

Later, Bell lamented the decision to swing so early.

“I went and checked it,” he said. “It was a really good pitch, down and away. I don’t know whether it was a strike. I ran out of barrel, and it kind of leaked out. Definitely tough to make a first-pitch out like that. I guess I got too aggressive.”

Hurdle said he felt bad pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Ivan Nova in the sixth after he held the Braves to nothing but Dansby Swanson’s two-run homer, his first of two on the night.

“We have to find a way to score a run,” Hurdle said. “He works hard, too, but he’s 1 for 46.

“A guy puts five days of work in, you’d like to see him get a few more pitches, but that’s the way the game played. Zero-zero, you have a different conversation. To have a 2-0 game, we need to move on.”

Hurdle seems willing to try anything, short of raising his voice.

“Our hitting coaches are diligent, man,” he said. “They pour into these guys every day. And these guys show up wanting to get things right every day.

“Yelling at people sometimes, that doesn’t make things better, either. You make your point. You talk about facts. You don’t worry about feelings. You address them. These are grown men in there for the most part who have all gone through challenges before.”

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