Bucs succeeding with 'pack mentality' at plate

Bucs succeeding with 'pack mentality' at plate

CINCINNATI -- Rather than lamenting what his lineup lost this offseason, manager Clint Hurdle focused on the Pirates' potential strengths, namely pitching and improved defense.

Without Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker -- and with Jung Ho Kang still on the disabled list -- Pittsburgh has emphasized a "pack mentality" offensively, and Hurdle has liked the early returns.

The Pirates entered Friday's series opener at Great American Ball Park as one of three Major League teams without a home run, but they scored 15 runs in their first series against the Cardinals and drew 14 walks compared to 22 strikeouts. Most importantly, they won all three games.

"I've been pleased with our approach," Hurdle said. "I've been pleased with the discipline and some of the patience we've shown. I've been pleased with the opportunistic at-bats we've had, moving runners. Even when we haven't moved them, there's been shots taken to be selfless with the at-bats."

Why is it working so well compared to last year, when the Pirates scuffled through the first five weeks of the season? Hurdle pointed to veterans John Jaso and David Freese, the club's first and third hitters, and right fielder Gregory Polanco.

Batting sixth, Polanco walked in five of his 13 plate appearances during the opening series. When he did swing away, he went 3-for-7 with a double and a triple.

"They were walks that he earned," Hurdle said. "Everybody's been pretty steadfast in looking for a pitch to hit -- one spot, one zone early. Then it's gotten to two strikes, and we've had some very solid, committed two-strike at-bats as well."

The numbers back up Hurdle's observation: The Pirates entered the weekend with a Major League-best .296 average and .770 OPS in two-strike counts.

3-0, 0-3...who's counting?
Last year, the Pirates opened the season 0-3. This year, they began 3-0 for the first time since 2007, when they won three in a row in Houston to begin the season.

Hurdle isn't paying much mind to the Pirates' record yet.

"Truth be told, for many of us, there's not a difference. It's what the record is," he said. "Our culture and environment is challenged every day, based on a win or a loss at the end of the night. ... You develop a callous for that. What you're always doing is analyzing the performance of the game."

Around the horn
Josh Harrison, a Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati alumnus, will be honored Saturday night with a poster giveaway, picturing his time with the Bearcats and Pirates, at Marge Schott Stadium. His alma mater is calling it "Josh Harrison Day" as Cincinnati hosts the University of Connecticut.

• With 1,156 career hits for the Pirates, Andrew McCutchen has passed Frank Gustine (1,152) on the club's all-time hits list and is two hits shy of tying Jack Wilson for 22nd place.

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.