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Pitching, defense remain priorities for Pirates

Pitching, defense remain priorities for Pirates
Looking for a silver lining after suffering back-to-back shutouts to Milwaukee and Cincinnati, Pirates manager John Russell took a back-to-basics approach by emphasizing the importance of pitching and defense.

No wonder, considering the Pirates' 3.35 ERA is the lowest in the majors and their .987 fielding percentage is tied for fifth in the National League. They rank third in the NL with 26 double plays.

"I think it's crucial," Russell said. "The name of the game is pitching and defense. You see teams that win with offense. In the long run, the teams that play defense and pitch are the teams that come out on top. You can't downplay offense - obviously, the last two nights are an example that you've got to score some runs - but your pitching and defense is huge."

Of course, that's just the spin expected from a team that entered Saturday's game in the midst of a 221/3-inning scoreless streak, during which the Bucs were batting .110. Then again, they were playing without starting catcher Ryan Doumit (wrist), shortstop Jack Wilson (sprained finger) and center fielder Nate McLouth (strained oblique) for most of that stretch.

"That's a huge blow to your defense," Russell said. "We had some guys come in who did a nice job. If you play defense, you're going to give yourself a chance to win because you can come back to the dugout and start swinging the bat. The worst thing to have is a shaky defense. You're on the field too long. You create long innings. You create innings where you can't get out of it. It's tough to fight back off it."

'Range is positioning'

Russell believes the Pirates' defensive performance is a direct influence of its infield instructor, first base coach Perry Hill, who has his own designated spot at the dugout railing from where he can send signals.

"More than anything, I knew that Perry would make a huge impact, not only here but throughout the organization," Russell said. "He's, in my opinion, the best infield coach I've ever been around. I knew bringing him in there'd be automatic changes and automatic improvements.

"You don't see the infielders having to dive for a lot of balls. You see them in position. ... One of the things Perry told me ? and I'll never forget it ? is, 'Range is positioning.' He's very basic, but he's very good and it shows."

Fine by me

Russell declined to offer an opinion on the undisclosed fine Major League Baseball handed Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens for hitting Milwaukee's Ryan Braun on Monday at Miller Park.

"That's something out of my area, so there's really no reason to talk about it," Russell said. "He got fined. You can't really appeal it, so there's not much to talk about."

Waiting game

Russell said reliever Craig Hansen (neck spasms) is improving, but all indications are that Hansen is nowhere near ready to return to pitching any time soon. He is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday.

"I don't know," Russell said. "It's tough for a pro pitcher, especially, because he really hasn't been able to throw or play catch. We'll see where he is when he can start to throw on the side, and we'll go from there."

Lineup changes

After being benched three times in the past six games, Brandon Moss started in right field and batted fifth last night. Moss was batting .203 with no home runs and one RBI.

"Brandon's going to play a lot," Russell said. "We're not worried about that. People are talking, 'Oh, he's benching guys now.' He's our right fielder. He's going to get plenty of opportunities out there. We're just trying to get him relaxed and get him going so he has better at-bats. Brandon's going to be a big part of our team all year, so we're just trying to get him going and get him to relax a little bit."

Other changes to the starting lineup included Ramon Vazquez at shortstop and Robinzon Diaz at catcher. Vazquez batted seventh, and Diaz eighth.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 4, 2009

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