McLouth off to a hot start with Pirates

McLouth off to hot start with Pirates

CHICAGO -- With no disrespect intended for center fielder Nyjer Morgan, the way that Nate McLouth has started the season has left many wondering why it took until the final week of Spring Training to even determine whether McLouth would be an everyday outfielder this season.

Well, maybe that was exactly what McLouth needed. And perhaps his hot start has actually been a direct result of him having that competition go so deep into the month of March.

"It differs because a lot of people can kind of come into Spring Training and use it as a tune-up for the season," said McLouth, who has hit safely in 15 consecutive games to begin this season. "But speaking for myself, I had to come out every day and do my best and compete every day."

And as a result, McLouth transitioned into season form better than anyone else on the team.

Though his teammates will say that McLouth's early success hasn't surprised them, it has opened the eyes of just about everyone else, including those who were never sure whether McLouth would be able to ditch the "fourth outfielder" label.

McLouth, in addition to posting the longest hitting streak by a Pirates player since Freddy Sanchez hit safely in 17 consecutive contests in 2005, has the Pirates' longest hitting streak to start a season since Al Oliver hit safely in 18 games to begin the 1972 campaign.

"Not only is he hot, but he's getting the big hits," first baseman Adam LaRoche noted, alluding directly to McLouth's game-winning, ninth-inning homer on Monday. "It's not going to last all year, but we're going to ride his bat as long as we can."

McLouth's hot start also has him among the league leaders in numerous offensive categories. Through Thursday, McLouth's 26 hits ranked second in the National League, one behind Atlanta's Chipper Jones. McLouth's 12 extra-base hits (nine doubles, one triple, two homers) were tops in the league, and his 43 total bases ranked second.

McLouth's .382 average is easily tops on the club, and it ranks fifth-best in the NL. And despite starting all but two games in the leadoff spot -- a place in the order not designed for run production -- McLouth entered Friday with 14 RBIs this season.

"Nate's been pretty much the catalyst of our club," manager John Russell said. "He's put together great at-bats all year."

In addition to McLouth's expedited tune-up during Spring Training, hitting coach Don Long had his own theory as to why McLouth is primed for long-term success offensively. McLouth has a plate approach, Long said, that has little frills and little room for technical error.

"Part of it goes back to how he sets up," Long explained. "If you're writing a book on hitting and the stance you would take, he's kind of the picture you'd be taking. There's not a lot of excess movement. His perception of the ball is pretty consistent."

As a result, McLouth's production at the plate has been pretty consistent thus far as well.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.