Retooled bench an early boon for Bucs

Retooled bench an early boon for Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- It won't always turn out the way it did on Monday, when Ryan Church came off the bench and delivered a bases-clearing double that carried the Pirates on the way to a thrilling Opening Day win, but the Bucs don't think that clutch pinch-hit was an anomaly either.

Much like the bullpen, the Pirates' bench was significantly retooled this offseason. The club's pinch-hitting core wasn't entirely ineffective last season, finishing with the league's fourth-highest batting average (.267). However, with only one pinch-hit home run and 18 pinch-hit RBIs, the bench also wasn't all that fruitful in run-producing situations.

The Pirates matched one-sixth of that RBI total with one swing of Church's bat on Monday, a promising sign of the weapons the club believes it has.

"It's good when you have some veteran guys on the bench who can swing the bat," manager John Russell said. "We have some guys who can do some things. It's a pretty balanced attack. We'll keep using them in the right situations and try to get as much success out of all of our guys as we can."

Church is a career .247 hitter off the bench, though he did go 4-for-10 in the role last season. Delwyn Young has had the most sustained success in the role, with 30 hits in 102 pinch-hit at-bats. And though he has started for most of his career, Bobby Crosby offers the Pirates an experienced right-handed bat. The experience of the three pinch-hitters is something the Bucs are hopeful will pay dividends throughout the season.

"You just always want to be mentally ready so that when you are called, you don't mess up," Church said. "If you want to sit around and mope and get mad about things that's when things start going bad. As long as you stay positive and are ready to go out there when they call on you, things are going to happen."