PITTSBURGH -- To get outs, a pitcher must be comfortable. And in a lot of ways, that state of mind relies on a hurler's relationship with the man behind the plate. Either Rod Barajas or Michael McKenry has started each of the Pirates' 94 games this season. Both catchers have contributed offensively, but what's been more important is how each has handled the team's pitching. "It's usually one of the areas that helps you create separation within your division," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose team was a half-game behind Cincinnati in the National League Central entering play on Monday. "I've been on teams where we haven't had that, whether it's lack of experience, or just you don't have the catchers that are able to do that, or your pitching staff doesn't trust the catcher.
"In Spring Training, that was one of the things we laid out -- the importance of what we're trying to build here." This season, the Pirates have benefited from consistency as it relates to the catcher position. That wasn't the case last year, when the team had eight players start behind the dish. Hurdle admitted how challenging that made things in 2011, but he said a lot of good came from it. More specifically, McKenry acquired loads of useful experience. Pair him with a veteran like Barajas, and you get two catchers who know what they're doing and how to bring out the best in a pitcher. "Our pitching staff now has gotten to the point where -- you know what? -- they do need to be aware of what's going on, but it's also kind of like when you're out on the highway and you put your car on cruise," Hurdle said. "You do know what speed you're going to go. You've got to hang onto the wheel for direction, but you know what speed you're going to go. "And they know what they're going to get back there, as far as direction, but they still need to be a little bit focused on what they're seeing as well."