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MIAMI -- The Pittsburgh Pirates hope to improve their play in the field as they prepare to face the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park this weekend.
Pittsburgh (9-12) opens a three-game road series against the Marlins on Friday, and the Pirates will have to improve their defense if they want to make a move out of the cellar in the National League Central.
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Right-hander Jameson Taillon (1-0, 2.13 ERA) gets the start for Pittsburgh as he tries to rebound from his shortest outing of the season; he worked 5 1/3 innings last Saturday against the Yankees, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks.
However, the defense behind Taillon might be the biggest variable against the Marlins. The Pirates rank last statistically in team defense. The shaky glove work has resulted in the team being tied for the most errors (20) and yielding the most unearned runs (15) in the NL.
Pittsburgh made another error Wednesday in a 6-5 win over the Chicago Cubs as the Pirates salvaged one game of the three-game set. The club also made history when infielder Gift Ngoepe debuted and became the first African-born player to play in the majors.
However, a 1-0 home loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday was a microcosm of how costly bad defense has been on a good night of pitching by Pirates hurlers this season.
A throwing error in the second inning led to Addison Russell scoring the only run, spoiling a sharp start by Gerrit Cole.
Second baseman Alen Hanson charged Jason Heyward's one-out chopper with Russell on second base, but Hanson's throw to first sailed past first baseman Josh Bell and bounced off the Chicago dugout, allowing Russell to score.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle recently lost All-Star outfielder Starling Marte to an 80-game suspension for a failed drug test. Hurdle told the media after the loss Tuesday that the Pirates sought the defensive answer to their problems within the farm system.
"You're gonna try and raise your own. That's what we're trying to do throughout our player-development system," Hurdle said. "You develop your own talent, and that's what we're trying to do. We feel we had guys that, given the opportunity and given the reps, could man the positions.
"We've come up short in some areas in the initial push out of the gate."
In contrast to the Pirates, the Marlins (10-10) have displayed slick skills in the field. The team's .992 fielding percentage, .738 defensive efficiency rating and six errors top the NL's defensive stats chart.
Miami will put that defense out on Friday to back left-hander Adam Conley (1-1, 3.00), who will be making his fourth start and fifth appearance.
The Marlins were again foiled by soft-tossing Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson on Thursday, dropping a 3-2 decision at Citizens Bank Park.
Hellickson relied on off-speed pitches to silence the Miami bats, twirling 35 changeups in his 94-pitch outing that led Philadelphia to its sixth straight win and a sweep of the two-game series.
Miami manager Don Mattingly said his team needs to regain the energy it showed in San Diego when the Marlins took two of three against the Padres.
"We kind of battled back in San Diego and got a couple, and then come here. You don't feel a lot of energy," Mattingly said Thursday after the loss, which saw Hellickson work out of a pair of jams.
"I don't know if it's the two days off. They were in the same situation. I didn't feel a lot of energy, even in the seventh there. We may have to do some things differently in terms of mixing things up."