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Notes: Offense stalls in the clutch

Notes: Offense stalls in the clutch

ST.LOUIS -- Talking to reporters in his office before Thursday's series finale against the Cardinals, Pirates manager Jim Tracy kept going back to one thing: hitting with runners in scoring position.

After watching his team strand 18 base runners during the first two games of the series against St. Louis, Tracy said his club needs to start coming through with runners on and to start hitting for more power.

"It's something that has haunted us from April 2nd, and it's something that needs to get better," Tracy said. "As a ballclub, our average with runners in scoring position is deplorable."

The Bucs are batting below .250 with runners in scoring position and have seen one of their most potent hitters from years past, Jason Bay, struggle in that situation, going 12-for-45 without a home run.

"He's not completely right yet," Tracy said. "We discussed it a little bit yesterday. He's getting closer."

Bay isn't the only Pirates hitter struggling with runners in scoring position. Jack Wilson is 3-for-31 and Chris Duffy is 5-for-28.

The more frustrating thing for Tracy is the team has only hit five home runs all season with runners in scoring position, and no player has hit more than one.

"We have some people in this lineup that periodically have to hit the ball out of the park," Tracy said. "Our team leader has five. Hopefully the guys in the middle of the lineup will get hot."

The Pirates are ranked outside the top 10 in the National League in every offensive category, including home runs and RBIs, where they are ranked 12th and 14th, respectfully.

Duffy impresses: Center fielder Chris Duffy batted second on Wednesday for the first time this season, and had positive results.

Duffy went 2-for-4 with a triple, a run scored and a stolen base. Duffy's triple led off the eighth and almost got the Bucs back in the game. Besides his success at the plate, Duffy also had a solid game in the field. In the first inning, the center fielder took away a home run from Juan Encarnacion when he climbed the wall and got it.

"He played a fantastic game last night," Tracy said Thursday. "I know how valuable this kid is. He did a great job."

Duffy had been out of the lineup for the previous three games before Wednesday. He was back in there on Thursday for the series finale, batting second again.

Doumit gets a rest: Ryan Doumit was out of the lineup for Thursday's game after playing right field on Tuesday and catching on Wednesday. After getting off to an extremely hot start, Doumit has cooled a bit lately, going 2-for-17.

Tracy has been pleased with Doumit's defense, both behind the plate and in right field. He said playing in the Mexican Pacific Winter League in the offseason helped Doumit's defense in the outfield. Doumit played with Mazatlan last winter and made 11 appearances in the outfield.

"You have to give that guy a day off once in a while, because that is a daunting task," Tracy said. "You have to give him a chance to recharge his legs a bit."

Armas adjusting: Tony Armas made the first relief appearance of his career on Tuesday night in the series opener. Before that, Armas had made 151 starts in the Majors without coming out of the bullpen.

Armas pitched a scoreless inning Tuesday. He has been working with pitching coach Jim Colborn on adjusting some of his mechanics and his delivery. Tracy said he envisioned Armas pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen when the Pirates are behind.

"You would like to get him going and throwing the ball really well, so if need be, you could potentially put him back in [the rotation]," Tracy said. "If the rotation doesn't solidify itself, you ask, 'Is he a possibility or not?' Today, I don't know."

Down on the farm: Triple-A Indianapolis had the day off on Wednesday. It returned to action Thursday against Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre. ... Double-A Altoona lost, 6-2, at Akron. Kip Bouknight started and picked up the loss, going five innings, giving up four hits and four earned runs. Adam Boeve hit his fifth home run of the season. ... Class A Lynchburg won, 5-1, at Frederick on Wednesday. Derek Hankins picked up the win, going six innings, giving up two hits and one run while striking out five. Jason Delaney was 2-for-2 with a grand slam. ... Class A Hickory beat Kannapolis, 8-7, on Wednesday. Cameron Blair was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and Bobby Kingsbury was 3-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs.

On deck: The Pirates will continue their seven-game road trip when they travel to Cincinnati to play four against the Reds. Left-hander Paul Maholm will get the start on Friday for the Bucs, while the Reds will counter with Aaron Harang. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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