Pirates flash power with back-to-back HRs

Pirates flash power with back-to-back HRs

PITTSBURGH -- In the absence of third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who remains on the restricted list while awaiting a work visa in South Korea, perhaps the most difficult question facing the Pirates' lineup is this: Where will the power come from?

In the home opener on Friday, it came from third baseman David Freese and catcher Francisco Cervelli, who barreled up back-to-back home runs off right-hander Josh Collmenter in the fifth inning of Pittsburgh's 5-4 win over Atlanta.

"That's what's fun, just seeing the guys whack it around a little bit," Freese said.

Freese got it started, crushing Collmenter's 2-2 changeup into the Braves' bullpen in center field for Pittsburgh's first home run of the season.

According to Statcast™, the ball came off Freese's bat with an exit velocity of 100 mph and traveled a projected 405 feet.

"I tried to stay put and stay back" on the pitch, Freese said. "I got through it, and I think the [wind] helped a little bit and got us going."

Playing with a sore and surgically repaired hamate bone in his left hand, Cervelli didn't hit his first home run last season until Sept. 22. He wasted little time tying that total, following Freese with a 102-mph, Statcast-projected 391-foot homer into the left-field seats.

"I'm happy for that," Cervelli said. "It's a good feeling. I worked hard in the offseason, and I feel healthy, so a lot of good things are going to happen this year."

The Pirates are without three players -- Kang, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce -- responsible for 52 of their 153 home runs last season. Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco should hit their fair share in the middle of the lineup, but who will pick up the slack?

Perhaps it will come by committee, as it did on Friday. The Bucs aren't built on home-run power, leaning toward a lineup based on contact and on-base ability. If they get enough men on base, they figure, they'll score plenty of runs.

"We can do a whole bunch of different things. That's what makes us unique," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "But you get guys on, a long ball can change an inning, change a game in a heartbeat. It's nice when you can get back-to-back, especially."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.