PITTSBURGH (AP) – Hitting was supposed to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ weakness coming into the season yet they lead the major leagues in home runs through the first 16 games of the season.
Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
The Pirates have hit 23 homers despite allowing first baseman Justin Morneau and right fielder Marlon Byrd to leave as free agents last winter. What encouraged manager Clint Hurdle the most was that three of the four homers on Thursday night were of the multi-run variety.
“It’s good to know you can strike quickly but we need to hit a few more with men on base like we did tonight rather than just solos,” Hurdle said.
Of course, the Pirates would have more multi-run homers if they could improve upon a .304 on-base percentage.
“That has been priority No. 1 since the first day of spring training,” Hurdle said. “We need to raise the on-base percentage.”
Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter. It stared Pittsburgh’s nine-run outburst over the seventh and eighth innings that was capped by Alvarez’s sixth of the year.
Hurdle wanted Harrison to bunt Jordy Mercer up to second base after he led off the inning with a single. However, Harrison failed to sacrifice then made it up for it.
“That’s why baseball is a crazy game,” Harrison said. “One second, I didn’t the job done and then the next second I put us ahead with a home run.
“I don’t hit a lot of home runs but I do know if you hit the ball down the left field line (at PNC Park) that you have a chance,” he said. “I knew I hit it hard.”
McCutchen, last year’s NL MVP, hit a two-run homer in the first inning in his 57th at-bat.
Gaby Sanchez also connected while Alvarez, Starling Marte, Russell Martin and Jordy Mercer each had two of the Pirates’ 12 hits.
Edinson Volquez (1-0) gave up two runs in seven innings for his first win with the Pirates, scattering eight hits.
“It’s a great feeling to get that first W for the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Volquez said. “That’s why they brought me here, to win games, so I feel like I did my job this time.”
Jonathan Lucroy and Scooter Gennett had two hits each for Milwaukee, which had won its first six road games. The Brewers have lost three of four since a nine-game winning streak.
Wooten relieved starter Yovani Gallardo to start the seventh. Harrison connected when he was pinch-hitting for Volquez, who signed a one-year, $5-milion contract with the Pirates in December as a free agent.
Gallardo allowed two runs and three in six innings with four walks and six strikeouts. However, Wooten allowed three runs while getting only one out and rookie left-hander Wei-Chung Wang was hammered for six runs in 2-3 of an inning as the Brewers bullpen’s ERA rose from a major league-best 1.33 to 3.16.
After Harrison’s homer put the Pirates ahead 4-2, McCutchen made it a three-run lead with a fielder’s choice grounder.
“That’s by far the most disappointed I’ve been in myself in professional baseball at any level,” Wooten said. “I don’t have the words to describe it. It’s embarrassing.”
NOTES: Brewers 1B Lyle Overbay was placed on the paternity list after his wife gave birth to a boy on Thursday morning in Milwaukee and INF-OF Elian Herrera was recalled from Triple-A Nashville. … Pirates OF Jose Tabata, who had a pinch-hit RIB double in the eighth, passed all concussion protocols Thursday morning, a day after leaving a game in Cincinnati in the fourth inning when he ran into the scoreboard while making a catch. .. Milwaukee RHP Kyle Lohse (2-1, 3.05) is scheduled to pitch Friday night against Pittsburgh RHP Charlie Morton (0-1, 3.32).