PITTSBURGH, Pa. — After trading for infielder Casey McGehee over the offseason, the Pirates were expecting to enter the 2012 season with a platoon at first base. McGehee would face the left-handed starters, Garrett Jones would start when a righy was on the mound.
But after solid spring training campaigns by several younger players, there might be several more platoons this season.
“One of the challenges that I’m looking forward to is, I have three players on the bench that had the three best springs of anybody down there outside of [Andrew] McCutchen,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We can very well mix things up very dramatically out of the chute with a number of left-handed pitchers that we’re going to face.”
The Pirates open up the season with a tough month of April. After a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Bucs will travel to the west coast to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks. St. Louis will come to Pittsburgh after that, along with the Colorado Rockies before facing the Atlanta Braves to end the month.
Not only will the club be facing tough teams out of the chute, but they will also be facing a lot of left-handers as well. The Phillies will throw two lefties at the Bucs out of their three game set (Cliff Lee, Cole Hames). Cy-Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers, along with fellow southpaw Ted Lilly.
With a lefty on the mound, you might see rookie Matt Hague starting at first, Casey McGehee or Josh Harrison at third, and Yamaico Navarro or Harrison in left to fill the lineup with right-handed bats.
“We’ve got depth, and we’ve got some guys that have got some experience,” Pirates Manger Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve also got the opportunity if it’s Navarro, if it’s Harrison, or somebody else to give somebody a break. Harrison has taken a lot of balls in the outfield practice. Just moving around. We’ve moved Jones out there, starting work there. We’re going to have some options.”
“We’re going to play that out as it comes,” Hurdle said of the platoon situations. “We’re going to use our bench. So, everybody needs to be involved for us all to be the best team we can be. Hague needs to get at-bats. He’s earned the opportunity to get at-bats. So has Casey, so has Navarro, so has Harrison. The balancing act that I’ve got get is to get everybody the opportunity to get out there and stay somewhat fresh, stay somewhat of a rhythm. I look forward to that challenge.”
Despite being a lefty, Hurdle said Nate McLouth could get some starts against left-handed starters as well.
“Nate’s faced left-handers all his way through,” Hurdle said. “When I was in Texas, it was kind of funny because we had a kid named [Daniel] Murphy, who played the outfield. In 2010, he platooned more against left-handed pitching than he did against right-handed pitching. It was just the way it worked out. I’m not saying we’re going to set it up that way, but with Nate out there, we can mix him around. ”
Pedro Alvarez struggled this spring, where he finished with just a .170 average over 19 games. But since losing his toe tap, that he incorporated over the offseason and used during Grapefruit League action during spring training, Alvarez has looked better at the plate. Like last season, Hurdle will most likely sit Alvarez when a lefty in on the mound.
“We’re going to give Pedro at-bats,” Hurdle said. “We feel confident that he’s close to getting to a good place. He’s repeating the swing, barreling up the ball. Pedro is always going to be a guy that’s going to have some strikeouts. There’s a number of players in this league that rack out three digit strikeouts. There still solid offensive players. That’s the category we think he’s going to fall into. He’s a run producer.”
“We think we’ve made some adjustments [and are] heading in the right direction. Now the season starts. He’s got to take some ownership of it. We’ve got some other opportunities and options to not keep anybody from getting overwhelmed, who doesn’t get out of the box really clean.”
Hague, who will make his Major League debut over Opening Day weekend, said he doesn’t care if he is part of a platoon situation at first base to start the season. Hague, who can also play third base, said he just wants the opportunity to play in the big leagues.
“Honestly, any opportunity for me right now is good,” Hague said. “Whenever I get the chance, whenever he calls on me to play, it’s my job to just be ready. Just kind of go about everyday whether I’m in the lineup or not, just work and try to get better that day and carry that into the game.”