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Pirates slugger Jack Suwinski working to fix his funk at the plate amid an abysmal August

Jul 31, 2023Jul 31, 2023

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Amid an abysmal August, Jack Suwinski has to remember to remind himself that he’s leading the Pittsburgh Pirates in home runs, ranks second in RBIs, walks and on-base percentage and is the fastest player in franchise history to reach 40 career home runs.

That’s no easy task for Suwinski. The 25-year-old outfielder is batting .091 (6 for 66) in 22 games this month and hasn’t homered in more than a month. No wonder he’s spent more time dwelling on the negative than appreciating the positive.

“Remembering the good stuff definitely helps get you through times like this,” Suwinski said. “Anyone would want to continue to produce for the team and help in whatever way they can, which is what I want to do. It’s a good thing to remember when you’re going through times like that, that you’re OK, that you’ve done it.”

Suwinski, however, also is aware that he’s hovering just above the Mendoza Line with a .202 batting average, leads the Pirates in strikeouts (141) and has the most strikeouts looking (55) in baseball this season.

So, forgiving himself for his struggles is another story.

“Probably not as much as I should,” Suwinski said, despite regular reminders from coaches and teammates. “It’s hard. That’s the one thing they remind me of, but then you look around and it’s a hard game. I think that I’m a really good player. I have expectations for myself, as everybody does for themselves.

“But, at the same time, knowing that it’s really hard and knowing that you have to be forgiving or else you’re going to really eat yourself alive, it’s going to be a lot harder to do that and play at the same time. Going through that, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Take your wins and compete when you can.”

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Suwinski was enduring the worst month of his major league career — which is saying something, considering he has a pair of 0-for-29 stretches on his resume — when the Pirates decided he needed a break.

With Suwinski hitting .071 (4 for 56) with a .382 OPS through his first 19 games of the month, Pirates manager Derek Shelton had hitting coaches Andy Haines and Christian Marrero do what Suwinski called a “deep dive” of diagnosing his problem areas.

They spent time working on Suwinski’s posture, focusing on getting him into a good position at the plate. They challenged him to compete in the batter’s box by putting him in game situations and mixing batting practice against the left-handed Marrero and a velocity machine on the field and in the batting cage in hopes of fixing his funk.

“It was just unplugging him for a day or two and letting him get some good, quality work in, knowing that the game component was not going to be a factor there,” Shelton said of sitting Suwinski against St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday. “The work they’re putting in is important. Sometimes, just taking a day away and watching is important.”

Suwinski’s initial response has been encouraging. He drew a pinch-hit leadoff walk in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings. He went 1 for 4 with a single in Friday’s 2-1 win, and drew a full-count walk and scored a run in the five-run seventh inning in the 10-6 loss on Saturday night. Suwinski had single and a stolen base on Sunday but struck out twice, the first time on a called third strike on a full-count cutter that was outside the zone.

“I feel better. I feel like I’m moving better, seeing the ball better,” Suwinski said before going 1 for 4 in Sunday’s 10-1 loss. “It’s not going to all come flooding back the way I want immediately. But definitely these last couple days are days to build on, days to keep rolling with.”

Where Suwinski’s home-road splits were a concern last season — when he batted .282 with 16 homers and 31 RBIs at PNC Park and .112 with three homers and seven RBIs away from the North Shore — the problem this year is with his splits against left-handed and right-handed pitching.

Suwinski has a .347 OBP with 12 doubles, 20 homers and 45 RBIs against righties but is slashing .193/.284/.289 with five doubles, one homer and nine RBIs against lefties. The drastic differences caused opponents to go to the bullpen for a left-hander for Suwinski’s turn in the order to the point that the Pirates eventually started pinch-hitting for Suwinski with righty Connor Joe in such situations but couldn’t avoid having Suwinski face lefties altogether.

That put pressure on Suwinski to adapt, but he’s batting .169 against off-speed pitches and .191 against breaking pitches, per Statcast, with a whopping 46% strikeout rate against sliders.

“It just goes back and forth. They’re going to switch what they’re doing and I’ve got to make adjustments, as well,” Suwinski said. “They start hammering that outer half of the plate, then go back in and start with breaking balls, start with fastballs. Lefty-righty, it’s just a little bit of back and forth. I think those are some of the times you learn from. You put that in your memory bank and keep moving forward.”

After hitting at least five home runs in each of the first four months of the season, Suwinski hasn’t homered since his solo shot on July 24 at San Diego. He’s making hard contact, as evidenced by his lineout to center in the seventh inning on Sunday that had a 102.7-mph exit velocity and traveled 392 feet, the second-longest distance of the game.

Suwinski knows that hitting a home run could help him forget about his slump and serve as a reminder about his prodigious power.

“I guess so but at a time like this, I don’t really think about going deep,” Suwinski said. “I think that’s just a result of the things I do, like swinging at good pitches, controlling the zone, knowing what I want to swing at and what I want to do with it. Doing those things, those pretty controllable, obtainable things lead to really good things — like a home run.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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