Minggu, 12 Juni 2011

Jones slowly back in picture

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday, June 12, 2011

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 07: Garrett Jones(notes) #46 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a double in the 8th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the game on June 7, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Nothing illustrates better than this what a miracle it is that the Pirates are 31-32 as they hit mid-June:

They have gotten a combined .224 batting average, eight home runs and 29 RBIs from two of their top three left-handed boppers, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones.

Alvarez has been on the disabled list since May 21 with a right quad injury and isn't close to being ready. He was an enormous disappointment before he got hurt, hitting .208 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.

Jones has been healthy, but his swing has been a mess. He lost his confidence, his manager's faith, his spot in the lineup, everything. He was hitting .229 with six home runs and 18 RBIs going into a game Saturday night against the New York Mets.

That's why, of the many nice things that happened in the Pirates' 3-2 win at PNC Park, the play of Jones was the most encouraging. Getting just his second start in right field in June, he doubled in their first run with a towering drive to left-center field off Mets starter R.A. Dickey and singled in his third at-bat. It was his first two-hit game since May 20.

"I know I can hit on this level," Jones said. "I have hit up here. The good ones come back. I feel like I'm coming back."

Maybe it was the little nudge -- OK, hard shove -- from Pirates manager Clint Hurdle that did it for Jones. "He has yet to be able to counter-punch," the disappointed boss said of Jones June 3. "He's 29. It's time. He's got to throw something down."

Talk about throwing something down.

How about the private and then public challenge Hurdle threw at Jones?

"I was aware of it," Jones said. "I think he was just trying to kick me in the butt and let me know that if I'm not hitting, we've got some good guys on the team who will play instead of me. It's good to have competition like that. It's going to make us all better and better as a team."

Jones' response has been just what Hurdle was anticipating. It wasn't just the two hits against the Mets. It was his pinch-hit double against the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday night that started a five-run eighth inning in the Pirates' comeback 8-5 win.

"We're obviously a totally different lineup when Garrett gets rolling like that," Hurdle said. "We had a heart-to-heart the other day. I just want him to come to the plate with bad intentions and hit the ball where it's pitched. Don't look for homers. Just hit the ball hard. He's got a bat that we need."

Did I mention Alvarez is out?

The Pirates' third left-handed power hitter -- Lyle Overbay -- has started to hit a little bit lately but still has just five home runs and 25 RBIs.

The team is getting little offensively from shortstop Ronny Cedeno after a brief surge and figure to get practically nothing from its catchers, Dusty Brown and Wyatt Toregas, who have to play until general manager Neal Huntington can find a better option for injured Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit.

The Pirates, as they are now, are going to struggle to score runs in most games. They got a big break to score two in the third Saturday night when Mets third baseman Daniel Murphy couldn't handle a hard shot hit by Andrew McCutchen. The play went for a two-run double.

You bet Jones has a bat that the Pirates need. They need him in right field. He started the season pretty much platooning with Matt Diaz, who hasn't hit a home run and has nine RBIs. He lost that job when Xavier Paul came on board on waivers April 26 from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Paul provided a spark for a while but is in an 0-for-14 slide.

Jones has to be the guy in right, doesn't he?

"I've just got to stay positive," he said. "I need to do everything I can to get my swing back and get back in the lineup on a regular basis."

Get his swing back?

Where did the darn thing go?

"That's baseball," Jones said, shrugging. "You watch Jason Bay. I'm sure he's frustrated. He's been an unbelievable hitter his whole career, but he's struggling right now. It happens."

Bay, once a big home run hitter for the Pirates and now the Mets' left fielder, ended an 0-for-24 slump with a bloop single to center field in the fourth Saturday night. He's hitting .208 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.

"It happens," Jones said again. "You start pressing. You try to make things happen. You've just got to relax and play your game. That's what I'm trying to do."

Jones isn't expected to play today against Mets left-hander Chris Capuano, but it's nice to think he'll be back in the lineup Monday night against right-hander Mike Pelfrey in the final game of the series.

Here's Hurdle one final time:

"It changes the lineup when Garrett is hitting."

Changes it for the good, obviously.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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