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Pirates' postgame: Notes and quotes from a 4-1 loss

Justin K. Aller

Johnny Cue-to holds onto ball, silences bats

Johnny Cueto was repeatedly serenaded by chants of "Cue-to" from the crowd of 11,926 tonight. The Reds starter survived the evening without dropping the ball, unlike the last time he pitched at PNC Park in front of a much larger crowd.

For the evening Cueto went nine innings, allowing three hits, one run, and struck out four. (Game score of 79.)

"Same results, but a different game plan," Hurdle said, referencing Cueto's start against Bucs earlier this month. In Cincinnati he was throwing a lot of two-seamers inside to left-handers, whereas today he was working both sides of the plate much more. "We were looking a little bit different early and had to adjust mid-game because he wasn't pitching the same type of thing," Hurdle added.

"I've got to give him credit," Edinson Volquez said following the game. "He's one of the best pitchers in the National League right now."

"Cueto has the ability to attack both sides of the plate," Russell Martin said. "When your going up there with a plan it is hard to think about hitting every pitch and zone he can throw to ... he has a lot of weapons."

Jeering is not working

Fans have been unsuccessful in throwing off the two main targets of their jeers during this home stand. Ryan Braun, who was continually booed, posted a 1.450 OPS in his trip to PNC Park; Cueto pitched a complete game, allowing only one run.

Volquez with another fine start

Edinson Volquez notched his third quality start of the season tonight. Along the way he retired nine consecutive batters between the middle of the third to the middle of the sixth innings. For the night, his line reads: seven innings pitched, five hits, two runs, three strikeouts, 61 game score. In his four starts Volquez has posted game scores of 62, 61, 55 and 61.

"Lots of first pitch strikes," Hurdle said. "He's keeping us in games and giving us a chance to win games."

"I get a little bit more confidence," Volquez said about facing a lineup full of guys he is familiar with. "We're pretty close, I just enjoy the game when I pitch against those guys."

Efficient Edinson

Volquez threw 100 pitches to 27 batters tonight. For the season, his pitches-per-plate appearance is now 3.48. If it holds, this is a nice development for the Pirates' right-hander who, for his career pre-2014, had an above league average (3.80) of 4.0.

Martin said that Volquez efficiency is tied to his success in pounding the zone. "He gets ahead a lot," Martin said, "he doesn't make a lot of mistakes in the middle of plate, and when you do make mistakes and your ahead in the count they don't get hit as hard because hitters have to shorten up and protect."

Strike thrower

Seventy-one of Volquez's 100 pitches were strikes tonight. That raises his season strike percentage to 69 percent. That is an increase of nine percent over his career average, and six percent higher than league average.

Volquez credits his good command to being aggressive. "That's want I want to be, attack the strike zone, attack those guys, especially with that lineup. You know, they're pretty good, they can take a lot of pitches."

"He has a ton of plus pitches," Martin said. "He's got some movement especially when he's down in the zone." Martin added that, like Cueto, Volquez has the ability to work both sides of the plate, which, when he's throwing strikes, keeps hitters guessing and off balance: "Hitters have a hard time trying to figure what to attack," Martin said.

BABIP issues

The Pirates were limited to three hits tonight. Their BABIP now stands at .267 (.296 is league average), second lowest in baseball. Their line drive rate is only one percent off from league average, so this is certainly a number we should expect to turnaround.

Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, in particular, have been suffering from ball-in-play bad luck. Alvarez's BABIP is now .151, Walker's .235.

Lineup Optimization

I'm going to have more on this issue in a future post, but in the first inning of tonight's game, Andrew McCutchen came up with two outs and the bases empty. It was 27th time this season he's batted with that base/out situation, making him the team leader in that statistic. Neil Walker is second on the team with 16 plate appearances. (McCutchen tacked on two more plate appearances in the the third and sixth innings tonight, bringing his seasonal total to 29.)

Relatedly, entering tonight's game McCutchen only has 36 plate appearances with men on base, and a total of 51 baserunners. The team leader is Pedro Alvarez with 47 plate appearances and 65 baserunners, followed by Neil Walker, 38 plate appearances / 55 baserunners.

What's going on? The answer is straightforward: He is hitting third. Three-hole hitters consistently lead in plate appearances with the bases empty/two outs: 5398 plate appearances since Opening Day 2013, compared to 3423 for sixth place hitters and 3273 for seventh (684 plate appearances for the Pirates' third hitters, 433 for their sixth).

The clean up spot outpaces third hitters in plate appearances with RISP, 6828 plate appearances to 6384 since April, 2013 (757 to 718 for the Pirates.)

Third place hitters lead in this category because they often bat in the first inning after the first two batters on the team are retired. 15 of McCutchen's 29 bases empty/two outs plate appearances have come in the first inning.

(Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.)