PITTSBURGH -- August has been a difficult month for the Pirates.If their struggles continue, the Bucs will finish with their first losing monthly record since April, when they went 10-12 to start the season. Pittsburgh responded with winning months in each of the next three, but it will take seven straight victories to extend that streak to four. Although demanding, the task is made easier by the fact that the first six of those games will take place at PNC Park, where the Pirates are 37-23 this year. The familiar scenery is a welcome sight for manager Clint Hurdle, especially considering that the team was recently swept in San Diego. "The game is hard right now for us. It's been challenging," Hurdle said. "This is all part of, I think, what we're going to have to go through and need to go through to learn how to continue to be effective, to stay optimistic, to stay positive, to challenge one another and encourage one another through the dog days of August -- and we've got another week of them. "But it's good to be home, to take on those challenges at home." Entering Friday's meeting with Milwaukee, the Pirates are 8-13 in August. An off-day on Thursday allowed for some rest, which was likely needed after a stretch that saw 20 games in 20 days. Hurdle didn't deny the strain that can accompany a schedule such as that one, but he wouldn't blame it for the club's recent woes. "That's the hand we get dealt," Hurdle said. "The start of August was pretty optimistic, but the last two weeks have been challenging." In August, the team's struggles include a 4.64 staff ERA and a .218 (38-for-174) batting average with runners in scoring position. Also, in 21 games this month (including a 19-inning victory and a 10-inning defeat) the Pirates have left 153 men on base, averaging 7.3 per game. Furthermore, the Bucs have lately found themselves in comeback situations more often. Opposing teams have grabbed the lead first in 18 August games and scored in the first inning in three straight and 11 of the last 16. Overall, the Pirates have been outscored 90-59 this season in the first inning. "We haven't pitched as well as we were. We haven't been able to get runners in from scoring position as well as we were. At the end of the day, that's going to tell the story," Hurdle said. "And we've played from behind a lot more than at any other point in time in the season. Those are all areas that we are trying to find ways to calibrate better, to get back in the right place. "We're ready to play. We know what's at stake. We've just got to play better."
McCutchen looks to improve on basepaths
PITTSBURGH -- It's always a shock to Pirates fans when another team gets the better of Andrew McCutchen.The basepaths is an area where the All-Star center fielder has struggled at times this season. While McCutchen has swiped 15 bags in 2012, he's also been caught stealing nine times and picked off on four occasions. Manager Clint Hurdle said McCutchen probably ran with more "reckless abandon" earlier this year, but Hurdle has seen changes in the way opposing teams approach his star, too. "There's more focus on Andrew everywhere he goes," Hurdle said. "And we'll actually notice, the best release time the pitcher has is when Andrew's on base. ... He's giving him his best time because he thinks he might run, so that has been a little bit prohibitive and challenging." McCutchen stole five bases in both April and May and four more in June. He went 0-for-3 in July, though, and is 1-for-2 so far in August. When he was a rookie in 2009, McCutchen posted 22 steals in just 108 games. He followed with 33 stolen bases in 2010 and 23 more in 2011. "He's got on base more than ever before. I'd like to see him get up and go more. He's aware of that," Hurdle said. "That's a work in progress. I do think that that part of his game will reignite."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.