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The Pittsburgh Pirates returned home to PNC Park after offensively being on a “semi-fast” during their seven-game west coast excursion. I wrote in a previous column that, “The upcoming road trip will either be beautiful or brutal for the Pirates.”

The Pirates returned to PNC Park on May 16 after completing a seven-game west coast trip against the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. I have to rescind my assertion that based on the Pirates’ questionable defense and offense that if Pittsburgh could not win the lion’s share of games played on the opposite coast that the Bucs would be mired in last place in the NL Central Division.

As of May 15, the Pirates had a day off, preparing to square off with the powerful Washington Nationals, the series starting Tuesday. Pittsburgh remained in the cellar of the NL Central trailing the division-leading Cardinals and trust me, it could have been a lot, lot worse simply because of this; During the Pirates’ “vacation” to the opposite coast, they were outscored by the untidy sum of 41-21, including a three-game sweep by the Dodgers and losing the first two of their four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They rebounded and won the final two games.

However, that being said, the Pirates got a bit more pep in their step as they neared the conclusion of their play away from the friendly banks of the Allegheny River. I have said on many occasions that Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle is one-fourth magician, one-fourth neurologist, one-fourth psychologist and one-fourth baseball tactician. Recently, I called into question his promoting first baseman/outfielder Jose Osuna from the Pirates AAA affiliate, Indianapolis, to the “parent club.” But if the home run that he crushed during the Pirates 6-4 win against Arizona this past weekend is a future indicator of his power, many MLB pitchers are going to be frustrated at having to face Osuna on a regular basis.

Here is what Clint Hurdle had to say to reporters about Osuna. “(He) continues to work hard to acclimate to the speed of the game up here. He’s a mature hitter. We like the battle in the box, we like the grit, we like the man.” It may have taken a minute for Osuna, but like typical sluggers of the past, he took a minute to admire the blast. “From the first moment, I knew it was gone,” he said.

Under the management of Hurdle, the Pirates will never quit. With their star third baseman Jung-Ho Kang stranded in South Korea, their other star infielder David Freese recently sidelined, and pitcher Jameson Taillon undergoing surgery over a week ago at Allegheny General Hospital for suspected testicular cancer, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  Almost any injury that could happen to his squad seems to be on some invisible macabre anti-bucket list that has been penned by unidentified and invisible forces just to torment and test the Pirates skipper.

I’ve been forced to retract my previous dismal assessment of the immediate future of the Pirates.  If the Pirates can do a 50-50 split of their remaining games before the All-Star break, they have just as good of an opportunity to remain in the thick of the NL Central race, and with a slip and fall of any of their divisional opponents…Hey, it’s a 162-game schedule — with a stroke of luck, any team can win the division…even the Pirates.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741)


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