COMMENTARY | It's no secret backup catcher Michael McKenry needs more playing time. The peppy bench player brings a certain fire to the stadium every day, even when it's clear he is several games away from seeing a start behind the plate.
The man whom fans affectionately call "The Fort" is the consummate team player, both in attitude and heart.
Manager Clint Hurdle made it clear recently that he understands what McKenry brings to the team. He started the 25-year-old reserve behind the plate while stationing Russell Martin at third base in a game against the Atlanta Braves. It was interesting for fans to see Martin at the hot corner, but Hurdle made it clear that it's a lineup switch he will use again in the future just to get McKenry some playing time.
The Fort has proved he is a reliable bench player, but could he endure the travails of being an everyday catcher? He's already got two home runs in 14 at-bats this year despite appearing in only five of the team's first 15 games.
He hit 12 bombs last year and 14 doubles in 240 at-bats, which equates to one dinger in every 20 at-bats. Those 12 home runs were exactly half the number hit by San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, who won the National League batting title last year. The only difference is that Posey had nearly 300 more at-bats than McKenry.
The biggest sore thumb sticking out is McKenry's batting average. He hit only .233 last year in 240 at-bats, and he's never hit higher than .287 in any season, which he did in Single-A in 2007. But everyone knows that catchers aren't expected to hit for average and are usually stationed at or near the bottom of lineups across the league.
But that doesn't mean there isn't offensive production there to be realized. The Pirates usually send out Neil Walker to bat in the fifth spot with Pedro Alvarez following in the sixth, with the catcher coming next. There are some serious runs-batted-in potential there in the seventh spot, so it's important the team puts the best hitter in that spot.
It's not like Martin is Rod Barajas, however. He enters a game April 23 with a seven-game hitting streak with three doubles, two home runs and only one strikeout in that span. He got off to an incredibly slow start at the plate but seems to be picking it up as of late. Martin even threw out two batters trying to steal second base in the same game against the Atlanta Braves.
But Martin also only hit .211 last year with the New York Yankees. He also hit 21 home runs though, 18 the year before that. If Martin and McKenry see more of a timeshare behind the plate, or if Martin can get worked into the lineup in a different spot, the Pirates could see some serious power behind the plate in the form of 30 or more combined home runs.
It all depends on whether or not Hurdle continues to give McKenry the playing time he deserves.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Russell Martin
- Clint Hurdle
- Michael McKenry
- Atlanta Braves