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Mehno: Inge not only problem for Pirates

Commentary

July 10, 2013
By John Mehno , The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - If I had a nickel for every complaint I've read and heard about Brandon Inge, I'd have to build a warehouse to store my coin collection.

Everyone, it seems, is fed up with Inge, a veteran utility player on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster.

He's been unproductive, producing a batting average that hovers below .200 with one home run. That hasn't prevented him from appearing in about half of the Pirates' games and starting about one-fourth of them at a variety of positions.

Manager Clint Hurdle says Inge is having problems adjusting to a part-time role, even though Inge only had 311 plate appearances for Oakland last season.

OK, Inge has been bad. If they released him tomorrow and gave someone else that job, how could it possibly hurt anything? But a 36-year-old part-time player isn't the root of the Pirates' offensive problems.

Hurdle himself said it on Monday: "I don't think we have anybody here exceeding expectations. We probably have a few who have been underachieving in what we expect them to do."

There's no "probably" about it. It's definite. Right field has been a zero for the Pirates, although Jose Tabata has been hitting since he returned from the disabled list.

But second base, first base and shortstop are also positions where the Pirates have gotten less than they've had reason to expect. Neil Walker hit .280 last year; he's currently at .244. Garrett Jones has eight home runs, which puts him on a pace for 15. He hit 27 last year.

Jordy Mercer supplanted Clint Barmes at shortstop, but more playing time has meant a lower batting average for Mercer. He's hit a Barmes-like .219 over the last two weeks.

Then there's Andrew McCutchen. He's an All-Star again, but he's well off where he was at this time a year ago. After 85 games last year, McCutchen had a .272 average with 18 home runs and a .625 slugging percentage.

At the start of play on Tuesday, McCutchen had a .303 average, nine home runs and was slugging .468.

Until the Pirates start getting consistent production from the main players in their everyday lineup, the offense will continue to struggle. The pitching is unlikely to be as good as it was in the first half of the season, which means the team will also win fewer games.

The main players have to produce more. That's a far bigger issue than Brandon Inge.

Derby Diss?

A lot of people are upset that Pedro Alvarez wasn't invited to participate in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game.

On merit, Alvarez deserves to participate. But really, it doesn't matter. The Derby is a made-for-ESPN schlock event that is quickly forgotten. Does it really matter if someone can destroy user-friendly batting practice lobs?

There's always a risk that a hitter can foul up his swing by trying to put on a show in the contest. Even if that risk is small, it outweighs any potential reward.

Worry about hitting home runs in games, when they matter.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

 
 
 

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