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Colin Dunlap: McKenry Deserves More Opportunity

By: Colin Dunlap
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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It doesn’t say here that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry is Johnny Bench. So don’t read it as such.

What it does say here is that McKenry probably deserves more opportunity.

With this franchise. At this time.

Certainly, anyone who was in attendance at PNC Park on Sunday will be hard-pressed, for a long time, to forget about the memories that McKenry provided.

Making just his second start this season, McKenry blasted two late-game home runs to lift the Pirates to a 10-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The win gave the Pirates a three-game series sweep against the Reds, a franchise that has become a nemesis of sorts since star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen was toasted with a fastball last season by Aroldis Chapman.

And McKenry’s blasts didn’t come off some down-the-line, tomato cans, either. No, he hit them off starter Mat Latos in the seventh and then well-paid reliever Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning in a game that saw the Pirates come back from a five-run disadvantage.

Now to the case for McKenry getting some more chances …

Granted it is a small sample size, an ultra-small sample size, but McKenry had as many home runs in his final two at-bats on Sunday (two) as Russell Martin has hits all season. Martin, who has started 10 games to this point, is 2 for 31, which works out to .065. Martin’s lone extra base hit was on Apr. 9 against the Diamondbacks, when he had a double. Remember, also, this is the same Russell Martin who was 0 for 17 in his first six starts.

In only 10 plate appearances, McKenry has managed three extra base hits — those two home runs and a double — score three times, driven in three runs and drawn a walk.

Now to the defensive stuff, Martin has allowed eight stolen bases, thrown out two runners and hasn’t had a passed ball or throwing error. McKenry has allowed four stolen bases, hasn’t thrown out a baserunner and hasn’t had a passed ball or throwing error. The general consensus, from many around the organization, is that Martin handles the pitching staff in a superior manner than McKenry. But is that disparity enough to offset what has been a glaring differential — albeit in a small sample size — in offensive firepower? The answer from this vantage is no.

Also, haven’t we been down this road before?

Just last season?

The Pirates marched Rod Barajas into town, a 36-year-old shell of his once self, on a $4M one-year contract (with a club option for another that they didn’t pick up) and he provided little. All the while McKenry was relegated to watching for much of the season from the dugout.

In 2012, Barajas hit .206 in 104 games with 11 home runs and 11 doubles, driving in 31; McKenry hit .233 in 88 games (64 starts) with 12 home runs, 14 doubles and 39 RBIs.

We all know the Pirates’ defense of the run game was non-existent last season, as opposing teams made the basepaths look like a merry-go-round. That said, any defensive advantage Barajas provided over McKenry was nominal.

Last season, there was also the case of Barajas being tabbed the personal catcher for A.J. Burnett, which forced him into the lineup at least once every fifth day. To me, that stuff is hogwash.

The question needs to be asked: Have you seen this dropoff in Burnett’s performance this season because he’s throwing to someone other than Barajas? I sure haven’t.

It doesn’t say here that McKenry needs to be elevated to the top spot, to totally leapfrog Martin. But it does say here that the gap between the No. 1 catcher and that of the No. 2 guy shouldn’t be as wide as it currently is. McKenry has proven that he deserves a few more starts, should get a few more opportunities than just being that Sunday starter and a guy who plays on get-away day.

And a hard question needs to be asked of this organization: There was that $4M being paid to Barajas last season and there is $17M being shelled out to Martin in a two-year deal, all the while McKenry makes a meager (comparatively) $505,000.

Will Martin — no matter how much he doesn’t hit — continue to be penciled into the lineup, just as Barajas was, in an effort to validate the sum paid to him?

I sure hope not.

The best guy needs to play.

Again, it doesn’t say here that McKenry is better than Martin; don’t misconstrue it as such. But it does say here that McKenry should be given an expanded role.

Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. -2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com.