Notes from this afternoon's pregame media scrum with Clint Hurdle:
-P- Jason Grilli and Russell Martin participated in a simulated game again this afternoon. Afterwards, Grilli said that returning to the bullpen on Saturday was a "real possibility." Clint Hurdle said that a Saturday return was "realistic."
Martin caught Grilli during the sim game. It was the first time he had played defense at game speed since his injury. Hurdle said it was a "good visual" seeing Martin back in the catcher's gear, and that he has told the team that he feels better than he did coming out of spring training. Hurdle described Martin as "very close" to being ready.
-P- Before what should be a very interesting, and important, game tonight for both the Pirates and Wandy Rodriguez, Hurdle said that he is "excited" to see what Rodriguez will do.
"He had anxiety, he had excitement, he had apprehension (before his last start)," Hurdle said. "He put a lot of work into making some tweaks to his delivery ... and he showed up well (in Milwaukee). This will be another test for him."
-P- With starting pitching continuing to be a problem for the Pirates, and with options like Brandon Cumpton and Jeff Locke in the minors, Hurdle said that the team is in a "constant process of evaluating," adding that they are "well aware" what they have in their system.
Hurdle said the following about each of the three starters, in particular, who are struggling:
On Francisco Liriano: "I'm here to tell you, we're not going to moving Liriano ... As long as he is healthy, we are going to continue to give him the ball."
On Wandy Rodriguez: "Now that he is back, he needs to opportunity to pitch and show us what we can do."
On Edinson Volquez: "He went from a guy last year that led the league in walks, to now throwing too many strikes. He's locked into trying to get guys on three pitches or less. We've got to fine tune the strike zone."
-P- Unprompted, Hurdle turned a discussion about hitters being hit by pitches into an explanation of why he thinks the Pirates' pitchers are allowing so many home runs this season:
We've got to do a better job of owning the plate and owning portions off of the plate. You saw last night in a four pitch sequence that three runs got put on the board. And, yes, it is about mistakes, but home runs are also hit when there is more comfort in the box.
Prediction: If the Orioles hit a home run tonight, one of the next three pitches from Wandy Rodriguez will be placed uncomfortably inside.
There was some talk in the comments section last night about the Pirates' offensive efficiency. They are getting on base a decent rate (top third of the NL), yet not scoring many runs (bottom third of the NL). Some of the explanation for the incongruity is related to the Pirates' lagging slugging percentage, which we talked about a little bit yesterday. (2013 Slugging/Isolated Slugging, .396/.151; 2014, .381/.134.)
One way to measure the Pirates' overall offensive efficiency is to look at their weighted runs created (wRC) and actual runs. Simply put, wRC tells us how many runs the Pirates should have expected to score, given their total offensive output. A measure of efficiency is derived by dividing wRC into actual runs. If actual runs are higher than expected runs, than an offense is considered efficient; if below, it is inefficient. This is not a perfect measure, but it is one way to attach a number to the concept of efficiency.
A quarter into the season, the Pirates' offense is the second-least-efficient in the National League, operating at 92.3 percent efficiency. They should have scored 182, while actually scoring 170. The Mets and Cubs lead the NL, posting efficiency scores of 114 and 108 respectively. In 2013, the Pirates' offensive efficiency was 96.3 percent.