Any discussion of problem areas that could derail the Pirates has always begun with right field, and it's probably safe to say the guys who play that position get tired of hearing and reading about it.
So they do their best not to pay attention to it at all, said Travis Snider, one of several Bucco right fielders who has failed to play up to expectations this season.
"People are entitled to their opinions, and that's fine," said Snider, who began a rehab assignment with the Curve on Monday. "We know as a team what we play for, and that's each other. On any given night we have guys stepping up in big situations to get big hits, make big plays defensively, and our pitching staff's been great all year.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Pirates outfielder Travis Snider singles in the first inning of his Curve rehab game.
"So if we can continue to do that and focus on what we can control, and not what the media wants to speculate on or what people think we should do, we know as a group of men that shows up to the field every day and enjoys playing with each other [that] we play the game the right way. And it's exciting to be a part of something like that."
There is plenty to be excited about with the first-place Pirates, but the reality of the right field situation cannot be overlooked. There's been a revolving door all season - Snider, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Andrew Lambo and even Brandon Inge - and collectively those hitters generally have been a hindrance to an offense that struggles in many areas.
Combined, those seven players have hit .237 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs while playing right field. That's far, far from what a major league team needs from one of the most important power positions in the lineup.
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: This series between the Curve and Reading pits the two worst teams in the Eastern League. The Fightin Phils have the worst record at 53-74, while Altoona is tied with New Britain for the second-worst mark at 59-69.
SAFE AT FIRST: 3B Adalberto Santos had his 24-game on base streak snapped in the first game as he went 0-for-3 with no walks.
STEALING SECOND: RHP Nick Kingham delivered the first hit of his career as he dropped an RBI single into left-center in the second inning for a 2-0 lead in game one. Kingham couldn't protect the lead on the mound as he allowed two runs in five innings for a no-decision. Tyler Waldron (0-3) gave up two unearned runs in the seventh for the loss, while Kyle Simon (2-6) won in relief for Reading.
ROUNDING THIRD: RHP Luis Sanz (3-5) worked three innings of relief and allowed one run for the win in game two. Reading starter Juan Sosa (3-4) took the loss.
HEADING HOME: The Curve have just 14 games left, only six at home.
- Cory Giger
Jose Tabata has hit the best at .281 while in right field but has just three homers and 13 RBIs. Snider's 17 RBIs are tops on the team, but he has hit only .224 with two homers in right.
There was no move made at the trade deadline to upgrade the position, so the Pirates have what they have. And Snider believes that's good enough to get into the playoffs and do some damage.
"Absolutely," he said. "And it's not just about right field. We've got eight other positions and guys that step up coming off the bench in different roles. So it's not something where we just focus on ourself. We focus on helping the team win any way we can."
Snider, rehabbing a left big toe injury that's similar to turf toe, played six innings in the first game of a doubleheader Monday against Reading. He went 1-for-3 with a run in a 4-2 loss, then the Curve bounced back to win game two, 3-2, before 3,390 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Snider, acquired from the Blue Jays in a trade deadline deal last year for pitcher Brad Lincoln, has had his chances to take control of the right field job this season. He hasn't been up to the task, hitting just .219 overall with three homers, 23 RBIs and a lowly .609 OPS in 95 games (242 at-bats).
Snider didn't use it as an excuse but said he has been bothered by the big toe issue most of the season.
"[It's] something we were able to maintain and keep in check, keep me on the field and playing effectively," Snider said. "And the last month or so that I was playing it progressively got worse."
Snider went on the disabled list in late July, and Monday was his first time back on the field. He's scheduled to play five or six innings again tonight for the Curve.
"I felt good," Snider said on his way out of the ballpark between games Monday. "First game back it's always good to lace up the spikes and go put on a uniform and play no matter where it is."?Snider ripped a line single off the first baseman's glove in his first at-bat, then showed he's running well as he went from first to third on a single to center by Gregory Polanco. He scored two batters later on a single by Justin Howard.
Snider got robbed of a double on a terrific running catch at the wall by center fielder Zach Collier in the third and flew out to the wall in center again in his final at-bat in the sixth.
"He looks pretty good," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. "Runs very well, hit the ball very well, good at-bats, good attitude. He moved very well in the outfield. So coming back from the rehab assignment, I think it's a very good day [for him]."
The Pirates would love if Snider can rejoin the big league club for the stretch drive and emerge as the consistent power threat they need in right field. He's yet to prove he can do that, but he should get his chances to make an impact over the final month of the regular season.
"The reason why we got him is because we believe he can do it, so it's going to be up to him to show the organization that he can be able to fill that spot," Garcia said.
SUBHD: Doubleheader recap
Key players: Reading 1B Jim Murphy went 4-for-4 with two RBIs and a run in the opener, and Curve CF Gregory Polanco went 2-for-3 with two RBIs in the second game.?Key plays: A costly error by 2B Jarek Cunningham to start the seventh inning helped Reading break up a tie game, and Polanco's RBI single in the third inning of game two produced the decisive run.?Key stats: RF Travis Snider went 1-for-3 with a run in his first rehab game with the Curve.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Snider singled, scored on Howard single (1-0).
Bottom 2nd: Cunningham walked, scored on Kingham single (2-0).
Top 3rd: Collier doubled, scored on Murphy single (2-1).
Top 5th: Cartwright singled, scored on Murphy single (2-2).
Top 7th: Franco reached on Cunningham error, scored on Dugan single (2-3); Murphy singled, scored on Valle groundout (2-4).
Bottom 1st: Maggi hit by pitch, scored on Polanco groundout (1-0).
Bottom 2nd: Howard walked, scored on Rojas Jr. groundout (2-0).
Top 3rd: Suomi singled, scored on Cartwright single (2-1).
Bottom 3rd: Maggi hit by pitch, scored on Polanco single (3-1).
Top 6th: Franco solo homer (3-2).