Josh Harrison Embracing Super Utility Role

Photo by Mark Olson

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Josh Harrison has had to add several more gloves this season in his locker. Harrison on Monday made his Major League debut in right field. In front of his locker in the clubhouse prior to the game, the 24-year-old had to count because even he was unsure. The total: six. Two outfield gloves and four different gloves for the infield.

“It’s one of those things where, it’s fun to come to the field because you don’t know what position you’re going to play,” Harrison said. “You see guys during BP, that are infielders that go to the outfield. You see guys from the outfield sometimes step into the infield. I actually get to do it. I enjoy it. It’s something I can do to help the team, playing different positions.”

Over the past week, Harrison has been in the lineup everyday due to swinging a hot bat. Harrison has played right field, left field, third base, second base and shortstop with Pittsburgh defining the term, ‘super utility man.’ Harrison worked on adding shortstop and outfield to his versatility over the offseason and during spring training.

“When I was in College, I played quite a few different positions: right, left, second and short,” Harrison said. “Once I got to pro ball, I mainly played the infield. When I was with the [Chicago] Cubs, I played more outfield than infield, so it’s something they knew I could do. Development-wise, I think they really wanted me to work on infield in the Minor Leagues. Baseball is a game of adjustments. I came up last year and played second and third. Coming into spring training this year, they wanted me to try and add a little bit more and see if I could add some value. Its something that’s not totally foreign to me so I think that kind of helps with me having a little background with it.”

“I can say just from experience, because that’s how I got my call — being able to play more than one position,” Harrison said of the advantage of being so versatile has helped him get playing time. “The way the rosters have changed now days, the utility man is very important. It’s a role that I’ve embraced. I mean, I’m still learning, but I’m getting that experience. Talking to guys who’ve done it in their career.”

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle understands the value of being versatile. During the span of his nine-year career in the Majors, Hurdle played in the corner outfield, first base, catcher and third base.

“It can be very valuable,” Hurdle said. “I’ll never tell him what a manager tried to tell me one time. He said I was too valuable to play. I looked at him and I said, ‘You know what? I think I know what you mean, but we’ll just leave it at that.’ I think what he wanted to say was, I can use you a lot of different ways, so really, you’re not valuable to me starting because I have people better than you. But your value lies in coming off and having a versatility in a number of different areas…With the way the roster is constructed, to have a guy that kind of determines a ‘Super U’. A guy you can send anywhere. It’s important.”

Harrison joked when asked if he would be willing to add a few more to his resume. First base? Catcher? What position can’t he play?

“The catching part? We’re going to leave that there,” Harrison said. “The coaching staff laughs at me when I go out and warm up the pitchers in between innings because it looks like I blink in between each pitch. We’ll probably leave the catcher out of equation.”

“My wife challenges me everyday. ‘Can you put him at first base yet?’ I go, ‘No I haven’t.’ She goes, ‘And why is that?’ And I go, ‘I never think it’s right when you throw down hill to first base.’ But we might kick that one to the curb as well,” Hurdle said. “He’s worked hard to become this versatile. It’s going to play out well for him and it’s going to play out well for us.”

Adjusting to the bench role and not playing everyday has been tough for Harrison. Last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, the 24-year-old played everyday, but when he was promoted to Pittsburgh, had to learn to adjust to that role. He said last year’s experience has helped him this season.

Harrison currently has a seven game hitting streak, going 9-for-26 (.346) during that span with three doubles and a home run. After hitting for a .136 clip over 11 games in April, Harrison is swinging a hot bat — a .344 average over 12 games in May.

“He’s swinging the bat,” Hurdle said. “He’s throwing something in every game he’s played in. A very good week. It started with the last home game on Sunday. The walk off win. He was able to get the base hit to drive in the winning run. He’s just continued to throughout the week so I’ll continue to look for opportunities to get him plugged in…He’s just having fun. Just balling in the back yard kind of.”

Harrison is learning to make the most of the opportunity when he is in the lineup, but at the same time, not trying to do too much when he is in there.

“It’s something that I had to learn a little bit last year the second time I was up,” Harrison said.”It’s one of those things where you can do as much as you want, extra hitting, taking ground balls, everything, but actual game reads and everything is where you’re going to get your most results from as far as filling better and feeling comfortable. You can’t go in there and try and do too much.”

“Everybody knows how hard it is to come off the bench. Young guys tend to think, I’ve got to go in there and get four hits and do this and that. It’s good that the coaching staff, some of the older guys, when you’re in there, don’t try and do too much. Just stay within yourself. Make the routine plays and have good at-bats. Don’t worry about trying to go 4-for-4. When you get a chance, don’t worry about trying to hit a home run every time, triples, whatever. Just play. Let the game come to you.”

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