PITTSBURGH — By JOHN PERROTTO
PITTSBURGH – April has turned to May and perhaps no Pirates player is happier than Brandon Moss.
“It was a rough first month,” the right fielder said.
Moss hit .203 with no home runs and one RBI in 18 games in April, a far cry from what the Pirates were expecting from a player counted on to be a run producer. While Moss hit just .222 in 45 games for the Pirates last season after being acquired from Boston in a July 31 trade, he did have six homers and 23 RBIs.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a run producer, a guy who gets hits with runners on base,” Moss said Saturday night before the Pirates hosted the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. “The batting average is one thing because it can fluctuate so much early in the season when you only have about 60 at-bats, but the lack of production bothers me. I’m in the lineup to drive in runs.”
Moss was hitless in 11 at bats with runners in scoring position in April and had one hit in 19 at-bats with runners on base for a .053 average.
“The disappointing part is that I’m making contact but it’s not hard contact, especially with men on base,” Moss said. “I’m just hitting dribblers. I’ve got to start driving the ball.”
Perhaps Moss needs some luck. His batting average on balls in play is .245 while the major-league average is .297.
Moss insists he is healthy after having knee surgery at the end of last season and then missing a significant portion of spring training with a badly bruised thumb.
“I feel great,” Moss said. “I just need to keep at it. That’s all I can do. I know I’m a better hitter than this and a better hitter than I was last year. I just have to stay positive and wait for it to come around.”
Though Moss has not started seven of the first 23 games, manager John Russell said he has not lost confidence in the 25-year-old.
“He’s not a platoon player or anything like that,” Russell said. “He’s our right fielder, and we feel he can be a big part of our offense.”
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Lineup update: Utility infielder Ramon Vazquez started at shortstop in place of Brian Bixler, who took extra batting practice in an attempt to find a way to make more consistent contact. Bixler has struck out in eight of 14 plate appearances since being recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis last Saturday when shortstop Jack Wilson went on the disabled list.
“Bix has gotten some big hits for us, but needs to clean some things up at the plate, particularly the strikeouts,” Russell said.
Catcher Robinson Diaz got the start behind the plate instead of Jason Jaramillo because he worked well with starter Ross Ohlendorf when they were paired as a battery last Sunday in San Diego. Ohlendorf won that game, allowing three runs in seven innings.
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Injury update: Reliever Craig Hansen, on the disabled list with neck spasms, is making progress in his rehabilitation and could begin throwing in the next few days. However, he won’t be ready to be activated when eligible Tuesday and the Pirates don’t have a timetable for when he will start a minor-league injury rehabilitation assignment.
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Discipline update: Right-hander Jeff Karstens was fined an undisclosed amount by Major League Baseball for hitting Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun with a pitch last Monday. While players can contest suspensions, there is no appeal process for fines.
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Farm update: Right fielder Garrett Jones was named Indianapolis’ player of the month for April as he hit .314 with eight doubles, three home runs, 20 RBIs and three stolen bases in 70 at-bats. Jones’ 20 RBIs were the most by an Indianapolis player in a month since Ryan Doumit had 20 in April 2007.
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Up next: The Pirates and Reds conclude their three-game series at 1:35 p.m. today with Karstens (1-0, 5.40) starting against Johnny Cueto (1-1, 2.19). The game will be televised by FSN Pittsburgh and broadcast on the Pirates Radio Network.
PITTSBURGH — By JOHN PERROTTO
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