If you’ve been watching the Pittsburgh Pirates on their current homestand, you know they can use all the offense they can get.
Although they managed to win three out of four from the Cubs last week, the Bucs didn’t score more than four runs in that series, and their slump at the plate has only gotten worse against the Padres. After earning just one hit in Monday night’s shutout loss, the Pirates have scored in precisely two of 18 innings since, with the RBIs coming on a two-run Marlon Byrd single Tuesday and Andrew McCutchen’s dramatic two-run homer Wednesday.
Despite the Pirates’ continuing offensive ineptitude, McCutchen’s 20th dinger of the season had them in position for another prototypical Bucco victory: a whole lot of pitching and just enough scoring. Instead, Mark Melancon had a rare rough outing and the Padres came back to win with two runs in the ninth.
There has been much debate among Pirates fans about whether starter Charlie Morton should’ve been allowed to try to finish the game after tossing eight dominant frames. While that’s a topic ripe for discussion, it would’ve been moot if the Bucs could’ve put a couple more runs on the board. The Pittsburgh bullpen has been downright dominant this season, but it can’t be expected to never allow a run.
To that end, the Pirates need to find a way to squeeze every bit of offensive production out of this roster. For me that means getting rookie catcher Tony Sanchez more at-bats in lieu of Russell Martin.
Although Martin has 35 extra-base hits – 14 of them home runs – and a .711 OPS this year that puts him above average among MLB catchers, he has gone ice cold in September, sporting a remarkably poor .100/.182/.175 line in the month. Manager Clint Hurdle alluded to reporters Wednesday that Martin is feeling the impact of working behind the plate in 114 of the 152 games thus far, hence John Buck and Sanchez got starts in the final two games of the Padres series.
The Pirates are hoping Martin’s two days off rejuvenate him, but it seems unlikely that he’ll return to his early-season form. With Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Justin Morneau also not pulling their weight at the plate lately, the Bucs can’t afford another black hole in the batting order.
Sanchez could be just what the offense needs to get going. The 25-year-old is certainly fresh: he’s played in only four games this month and five over the past four weeks. Sanchez also appears to be getting more comfortable at the plate, albeit in a small sample size.
In his previous five games, the 2009 first-round pick has five hits – including a double and two homers – in 14 times at bat. Sanchez is also an elite defender, so playing him instead of Martin shouldn’t make much of a difference when it comes to blocking pitches in the dirt and squelching the opposition’s running game.
It’s been a long season for the 30-year-old Martin, and his professional competence has saved untold extra bases and runs in 2013. But the fact is that right now, he’s hurting more than helping with a bat in his hands.
That can turn around quickly, perhaps with the help of some late-season adrenaline, but until then Sanchez should see additional playing time.
UPDATE: Sanchez went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk in Thursday’s 10-1 win over the Padres. He also tumbled into the San Diego dugout after making a lunging catch on a foul pop-up in the eighth inning.