Led by James McDonald's emergence to join veteran put-away aces A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard, the Bucs were averaging 7.32 strikeouts every nine innings heading into Tuesday's game, by far a record pace for a franchise that has had only one other staff hit 7.0 (1969).To Clint Hurdle, it's all about the younger pitchers putting their experience to use.
PITTSBURGH -- The jump in the rate at which Pirates pitchers are piling up strikeouts has received a lot of attention and been explained in a variety of ways.
"They know what they have to do with two strikes, and that's not to go to 'show' pitches," the manager said. "They have the aggressive mentality to put batters away." To pitching coach Ray Searage, Bedard and Burnett showed the way for an erstwhile pitch-to-contact staff and "everyone else is feeding off them, which is great." To one of the principals -- Jason Grilli, who has 33 punchouts in 18 innings -- it's "just going for it when I got two strikes on the guy, without holding anything back." All good theories, all overlooking possibly the best explanation of all: The Pirates are merely falling in line with a Major League trend of escalating strikeouts; after all, they are pitching against the same guys as everyone else and are ranked 17th in the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings. Majors-wide, the 30 clubs are striking out 7.4 men per nine innings, which at the end of the season would also be an all-time record, topping the old mark of 7.1 set last season. Furthermore, that 0.3 jump is the largest from one season to the next since 1985-86, when the rate went from 5.4 to 5.9.