08/23/2002 00:08 am ET
Reese improves at the plate
By Jared Hoffman / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- It's not unusual for Pirates second baseman Pokey Reese to take away a run with a diving play at second base.
But this season he has been making improvements at the plate and becoming a dangerous hitter late in ballgames, like he was in
the Pirates 5-4 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Thursday.
Reese went 2-for-4 and his RBI single up the middle in the seventh gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead
before St. Louis scored three times in the ninth off closer Mike Williams to
rally for the win.
Manager Lloyd McClendon knows the Pirates (55-73) have a ways to go before they
can compete for a spot in the playoffs.
"We're trying to get better and certainly we're moving in that direction," said McClendon. "The puzzle
is not complete and certainly we need to add a few more pieces."
However, McClendon also believes he already has one of those pieces in place in Reese.
"He's certainly solidified things and made it a lot easier for us up the middle," said McClendon, who says without any
doubt in his voice that Reese is the best defensive second baseman in the Majors, period.
Reese has already won two Gold Gloves and McClendon believes Reese should be receiving his third after this season. Reese has committed just five errors
all year, is second among NL second baseman in fielding percentage (.990).
"The defense comes naturally," said Reese. "I've always been the best defensive player, in high school, coming out of the draft in '91, in the minor leagues, I was always known for my glove and it just carried over (to the Majors).
"But I also want to be known as one of the best hitters in the game, too. I'm learning more and more every day, so hopefully people will know me as a hitter and as a defender."
Thursday was Reese's sixth consecutive game batting in the leadoff spot and his two hits raised his average to .286 (6-for-21)
as a leadoff hitter.
"I also want to be known as one of the best hitters in the game, too. I'm
learning more and more every day, so hopefully people will know me as a hitter
and as a defender."
-- POKEY REESE
"If he can continue to improve, he certainly has an opportunity to do so at the top of the order," said McClendon. "With that type of speed at the top of the order, he's certainly another weapon. Hopefully, he will make the kind of progress we think he can continue to make and be an offensive force."
What Reese has done at the plate this season gives the Pirates every reason to believe he can and will continue to make that progress.
After hitting just .224 with the Reds in 2001, Reese is hitting .262 this season and his RBI against the Cardinals on Thursday was his 41st of the season, giving him one more than he had last year.
What has been particularly impressive is that much of Reese's production, has come from one of the toughest places to bat in a National League lineup
-- the eighth spot.
Reese has hit .280 with three home runs and 31 RBIs batting eighth.
"I think his numbers in the eighth spot are pretty productive," said McClendon. "It's awfully hard to get production out of that eighth spot, too. A lot of times, you get pitched around and you see a lot of breaking stuff out of the strike zone."
Reese doesn't care where he bats in the Pirates' lineup -- he just wants to continue to improve. "I struggled last year at Cincinnati, so coming here I wanted to get off to a good start and I did," said Reese "Then I went into a big funk, and I kind of fought my way out of it. Now, I'm getting back into the groove a little bit and I want to finish strong."
Williams' streak ends: Mike Williams equaled his own club record with his 16th consecutive save last Sunday against Milwaukee, but
he missed a chance to break the mark when he gave up three runs to St. Louis in the ninth.
It was his first blown save since June 14 at Cincinnati.
Williams said the Cardinals deserve some credit for the ninth-inning rally but
he also said he didn't have his best stuff.
"I was up in the zone," said Williams. "I didn't get any pitches down. They should have hit the pitches I threw up there."
Williams set a Pirates club record with his 35th save of the season on Sunday. Thursday's blown save was only his third of the season and his .921 save percentage is better than
any American League closer and third-best in the NL ahead of Atlanta's John Smoltz.
Jared Hoffman is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.