Pirates' fastball-hitting reputation changing foes' plan

Pirates' fastball-hitting reputation changing foes' plan

CHICAGO -- The Pirates' reputation as a group that mashes fastballs may have led to their current standing as baseball's most aggressive lineup.

Last year, Pittsburgh led the National League in walks. The Bucs entered Tuesday night's game at Wrigley Field with the fewest walks in the Majors plus a league-low 5 percent walk rate and .275 on-base percentage.

So, what changed?

Granted, it's only been 20 games, so the trend could correct itself in time. But manager Clint Hurdle thinks the Bucs' low walk totals are at least somewhat related to the way they crushed fastballs last year.

According to the linear pitch weights on FanGraphs, the Pirates were the best-hitting team in the NL against fastballs in 2014. They've remained one of the most productive teams in the league against fastballs this year.

But the Pirates have struggled mightily against offspeed stuff, and they've seen the fewest fastballs of any NL team so far this season.

"We're going to be challenged differently," Hurdle said. "We're going to have to show the discipline to make those pitches be in the zone. Maybe we've gotten outside of that a little bit."

Around the horn
• Slumping center fielder Andrew McCutchen evidently hasn't let his season-opening skid affect his sense of humor, as he tweeted a picture of one of his bats Tuesday afternoon with the caption, "We had a loooong talk last night and today."

"We know that the longer he goes without getting a hit, the better his chances are to get one," Hurdle said. "The longer he goes without being hot, the better his chances are to get hot."

• Hurdle was asked Tuesday about the concept of batting his pitcher eighth, which Cubs manager Joe Maddon continues to do. Hurdle said he understands the theory behind it -- getting more men on base for the heart of the order the second and third times through the lineup -- but doesn't think the Pirates have the personnel to implement a similar strategy.

• Hurdle was stunned and saddened to hear that Tigers legend Kirk Gibson, briefly a Pirate in 1992, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Hurdle said he knew Gibson since their time in the Minor Leagues and planned to reach out to him.

"He's always been up for a challenge. You never want to see anybody have to meet this challenge," Hurdle said. "What a competitor. What a good man, a good man to have in the game, a good man to know."

• Pirates Charities, Hurdle and his wife, Karla, and ROOT SPORTS announced the return of the "Wins for Kids" fundraising campaign this season. This is the program's fifth year raising funds for Pirates Charities and The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh's Center for Prader-Willi Syndrome. For more information, visit pirates.com/winsforkids.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.