Pirates Debating DH Decision; Clement an Option?

Hitting Coach Jeff Branson congratulates Jeff Clement on his solo home run.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Starting on Tuesday, the Pirates will kick off a six game series of Interleague play away from PNC Park. They travel to Baltimore to face the Orioles and Cleveland to face the Indians before returning to Pittsburgh on June 19 for a six game set.

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle and General Manager Neal Huntington are said to be using the day off today to discuss whether they will call up a bat from Triple-A Indianapolis to serve as the designated hitter.

“We’re working through it because we’re going to have six games and we’re going to have two left-handed pitchers starting off against us so it will be a little different look,” Hurdle said.

“We’ve got some guys that we feel can fill the DH role,” Huntington said. “Clint can be flexible with the DH role and give guys half days off by DH’ing them, versus playing them in a position. We also have some guys that can use some playing time that haven’t necessarily played a lot here recently that he can run in as a DH. We’ve also got a handful of guys that are starting to swing the bats. We’ve got some flexibility, some versatility. We’re open to maybe running somebody in but we don’t feel like it’s an absolute have to at this time.”

Those that could benefit from extra at-bats and playing time are rookies Matt Hague, Jordy Mercer and infielder Josh Harrison. After getting recalled for the second time this season on May 25, Hague played in nine-straight games, where he hit safely in eight of those games. He since has made two starts while appearing in five games overall. Mercer, who was recalled on May 28, he’s made just two starts and Harrison has made just three starts over the last 13 games.

“I know in past places, Clint’s talked about bringing up the hottest young hitter and throwing him into the DH role,” Huntington said.

That young hitter is first baseman Jeff Clement, whose hot bat is starting to get fans to tweet the hashtag #FreeJeffClement. The 28-year-old, who the Pirates acquired from Seattle back in 2009, is a former first round pick (third overall), but injuries has hindered Clement from sticking in the Majors.

Clement last appeared in the bigs with Pittsburgh in 2010, when he hit for a .201/.237/.368 line over 54 games. That season with Triple-A, Clement hit .304 with eight home runs with 15 doubles over 42 games but his season ended after undergoing left knee surgery in September. He missed most of the 2011 season.

Over the offseason Clement signed a minor league deal with the club in hopes that if healthy, he could work his way back. That’s exactly what he’s been doing at Triple-A. Entering game action on Monday, Clement has hit for a .301/.383/.528 line over 50 games at Indy. He’s belted out seven long balls and 17 doubles making a case for a call-up for Interleague play. Clement, however, is not on the Pirates 40-man roster and the club would have to remove someone in order to bring him up.

“Jeff is healthy first and foremost and using the whole field with authority,” Huntington said. “And that’s what’s fun with Jeff. His legs are back under him again. When he gets underneath him, he can drive a ball to any part of the ballpark. The guy that we saw up here struggled a little bit and then started to try and do too much. What happens when guys start to try and do too much? They start to pull and yank. They expose the outer half to Major League pitchers. Major League pitchers can exploit a weakness with the best of them. That’s why they’re Major League pitchers.”

“Jeff right now is driving the ball to all fields. He’s comfortable. He’s confident. As we look through our system, we do it time and again, we look at guys that are undervalued in our organization. We put a set criteria out there and every time we run one of those lists, Jeff Clement’s name comes up. We’re making sure we don’t undervalue him, but at the same time we want to make sure that we do the right thing for all involved.”

After sweeping the Kansas City Royals with the 3-2 win on Sunday, the Pirates improved their Interleague record to 4-2 on the season. They also took one game of the three game set against the Detroit Tigers May 18-20.  During the 2011 season, the Pirates posted a 8-7 record during Interleague and are 86-134 in Pittsburgh history.

Kristy Robinson

Author: Kristy Robinson

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