ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't clear what had most upset Dodgers right-hander Joe Blanton to the point of accosting the home-plate umpire following his removal from Thursday's game at PNC Park:
The fact that he had walked Andrew McCutchen three times -- matching the respected control pitcher's highest total in any game in two years -- or that Garrett Jones had followed two of the walks with the three-run homers that keyed the Pirates' 10-6 win?
But the biggest takeaway from those sequences was clear: If pitchers are going to increasingly avoid the Major Leagues' top hitter, cleanup batter Jones' responses will be critical to keeping the Pittsburgh offense productive.
"Garrett has become the one guy who can cover for Andrew," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a couple of exclamation points [Thursday]. He's been doing that on a pretty regular basis."
Jones certainly has: Of his 45 RBIs driving in a teammate (his total of 64 minus the 19 homers on which he "drove" himself in), 20 have scored McCutchen.
There may not be many more obvious opportunities to step up as there were on Thursday, McCutchen's first three-walk game of the season. One of the most remarkable aspects of McCutchen's breakout is that he is walking at a slower rate than in any of his first three seasons -- supporting Hurdle's perception that ego (or confidence) driven pitchers no longer pitch around people as they once did.
Even as a rookie in 2009, McCutchen walked more often -- 54 times in 493 plate appearances, compared to the 48 in 482 he took into Friday night's game; McCutchen drew 89 walks in 678 plate appearances last year, while batting .259.
"People nowadays just feel they can get anyone
out," Hurdle said. "The last couple of guys I didn't see get pitched to were [Albert] Pujols and [Barry] Bonds. You just don't see it often."