Notes from this morning's press scrum:
Last game of a long stretch
The Pirates play their 18th game in 17 days today. In this long stretch of consecutive games the Bucs have posted a 10-7 record.
Tony Sanchez calls a good game
Hurdle said that he was pleased with how quickly Tony Sanchez has "shown the ability to game plan." The Pirates' manager pointed to the low number of shake-offs he received from Francisco Liriano as an indication of Sanchez's game calling.
There weren't many lot of shakes last night. There were some shakes but not a lot of shakes, which is one thing I paid attention to last night. I counted shakes throughout the night watching Frankie set up. When he did shake him off, it didn't take him long for the next sign to come down. There wasn't roll-through, roll-through, time out.
A very National League moment
The bottom of the sixth presented a very National League moment last night. With one out, Jose Tabata was on third and represented a very important run. The No. 8 hitter, Josh Harrison, was up, with Liriano due up behind him. Harrison was called on, and executed, a perfect squeeze play that scored Tabata.
In that situation a National League team really only has one opportunity to score the run, since pitchers are usually an automatic out. An American League team, on the other hand, has two legitimate shots to get the run home without resorting to a risky all-or-nothing play like a squeeze.
This brings focus on the unique role of the No. 8 hitter in a National League lineup, as opposed to his American League counterpart. This morning Clint Hurdle was asked about the skill set that a NL No. 8 hitter needs. In particular, if NL teams put a premium on having a guy that can display good bat control for that role. Hurdle agreed, and then he expanded on the idea in what I thought were interesting ways.
That's one way to look at it. More often than not that's how I've looked at it. There's some teams in our league that don't look at it the same way, if you look at the guy they have hitting eighth. But it does take a mentality and understanding of who is batting behind you and that that moment of challenge isn't always going to be a fastball. Many times they're going to be willing to pass on you or make you chase. Pitchers challenge eighth hitters' discipline as much as his skill set. ... With Harrison, the way he's swinging the bat, I was hoping to hit him in a different spot, but at the end of the day it seemed like a good fit.
Josh Harrison in the "best place he's been"
Hurdle likes what he is seeing from Josh Harrison during this stint with the Pirates. According to the Pirates' manager, Harrison is the type of player that can give the team a "shot in the arm." So far in his career the problem has been that his on base percentage "hasn't been where it needs to be," Hurdle said.
In the past the balls been in the air too much and not on base enough. These are things we've talked quite frankly about with him. ... This time back there is a visible difference, we've seen him take pitches. Work counts, squaring balls up. His defensive versatility is as good as it's ever been for us. ... This is the best place he's been in revisiting a Major League team.
Scouting Colorado's starting pitcher Juan Nicasio
A quick glance at Rockies' starter Jun Nicasio's game log tells the story of an inconsistent pitcher. He has had a couple games with a lot of strikeouts, but his median number of strikeouts is three. He has gone seven innings three times without allowing a run, yet his ERA is 4.92 for the season. Six times he has induced a double-digit number of ground balls; conversely, seven times he has allowed more than 10 fly balls in a game. Rockies' manager Walt Weiss was asked what signs he looks for early in the game from Nicasio in order to get a sense in which direction things are going to go for him.
It comes down to his command and efficiency. If he is getting in good counts early, he has the ability to put hitters away. He's got a good arm, but it he falls behind and has to put balls over the middle of the plate then he gets in trouble. If you see him attacking the bottom of the zone with his fastball and he's getting strikes with it, then it's usually a good day for him. When he gets in bad counts is when he struggles.