PITTSBURGH — The night could be summarized in one play.
With Bryan Reynolds on first, Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a line drive right at first baseman Eric Hosmer. Reynolds initially broke towards second, but realized the mistake and tried to scramble back. Too late. Hosmer grabbed Hayes’s frozen rope, then tagged Reynolds, who had stumbled to the dirt. Double play.
Just one of those nights.
Here are three observations from the Pirates’ 7-3 loss to the Padres on Friday at PNC Park.
Bryan Reynolds is in a funk. Through 18 games, Reynolds is hitting .188/.273/.304. He hasn’t had an extra-base hit in two weeks. In his pursuit of ending the slump, Reynolds has been more aggressive than usual.
Entering Friday, Reynolds has swung at a career-high 50 percent of the pitches he has seen this season. More than that, Reynolds has swung at 34.5 percent of the pitches outside the strike zone. Entering this season, by comparison, Reynolds swung at 30.3 percent of pitches outside the zone. Prior to the loss, manager Derek Shelton detailed a source of Reynolds’ struggles:
“There’s an old guy that has since passed that went by the name of Karl Keuhl, who wrote ‘The Mental Game of Baseball,’ that was kind of a mentor of mine,” Shelton said. “One of the things he used to say all the time was, ‘Are you seeing the ball out of hand? Are you seeing the ball halfway there? Are you seeing the ball at the plate?’
“When you talk to hitters, when they’re not swinging the bat as well, there’s one of the three points where you’re not seeing the ball. As simple as it sounds, and as much as you sound like an eight-year-old’s mom standing at a T-ball game, he’s got to watch the ball.”
When Shelton was asked how a player sees the ball better, Pittsburgh’s manager said it comes down to focus.
“I think a lot of times — and I’ve been guilty of this as a hitting coach — is you focus on the swing more than you focus on the ball, and you have to focus on the ball,” Shelton said. “The game is built around the ball, and at times we forget that. We forget to pay attention to the ball. I’m not saying that specifically to Bryan’s case, but in any hitter’s case, we get away from that sometimes. We have to go back to seeing the baseball.
Diego Castillo records two hits
With Kevin Newman projected to miss 3-to-5 weeks with a left groin injury, Diego Castillo has taken over as the Pirates’ starting shortstop for the time being. The rookie put together a solid evening, recording two hits and making a tough defensive play up the middle.
Just as impressive as the two hits was Castillo’s ability to rebound from one of the worst swings of his young career. In his second plate appearance of the evening, Yu Darvish completely fooled Castillo with a curveball. Castillo didn’t swing so much as he flailed at the ball; he could do nothing but tilt his head towards the sky and smile in admiration of a fantastic pitch. In his third-and-final plate appearance against Darvish, Castillo hit a single up the middle to record his third career multi-hit game.
“Diego continues to impress,” Shelton said. “He continues to have good at-bats. He continues to catch the ball. He’s learning how to adjust to the big league level. That third at-bat is something that’s very encouraging.”
Pirates looking for power
Reynolds isn’t the only Pirate who’s searching for answers. The Pirates only have one extra-base hit in their last three games. It should come as no surprise that they’ve averaged only two runs.
The Pirates were, to their credit, a tad unlucky on Friday. In addition to the line drive that was caught, Hayes hit a 105.9 mph line drive off Darvish that would be recorded for an out. Reynolds smoked a 101.4 mph line drive right into the glove of Manny Machado to end the game.
“We’ve got to keep swinging the bats,” Shelton said. “It’s by no excuse, [but] we really haven’t caught a break. We need to find some offense and maybe find it in some different ways. Sometimes, when we’re in deficit games, it’s hard to be a little more creative in terms of it. We’re going to hit-and-run, if we’re going to move. We’re searching a little bit for the slug right now.”