Since joining Pittsburgh, Drew Sutton has added a spark at the top of the Pirates lineup. The 28-year-old has had some memorable moments so far, too. Between hitting a walkoff home run — his first long ball since August of 2010 and a moment that he said is the reason you play the game — learning to flash the Zoltan “Z” on the fly, and the club pursuing interest not once, or twice, but three times this year in Sutton, he’s been riding a hot bat for the Pirates since making his debut on June 26.
“Just trying to be comfortable,” Sutton said. “Anytime you go into different situations, different clubhouses, different guys, you want to earn respect as soon as you get in. That kind of helps you ease into the transition of being around new guys, new players. Playing well is a big part of that. It helps earn a little bit of respect. It’s always interesting coming from one team to another, you never know how you might blend in or fit in. It’s going pretty well so far.”
Getting comfortable with a new team is something that Sutton has had to adjust to three times this season. The Pirates pursued Sutton in the offseason, but the Texas native signed with the Atlanta Braves instead and started the year at Triple-A Gwinnett. Pittsburgh then made a trade for Sutton on May 20, but the next day dealt him to Tampa Bay. The move was one that Sutton said he was grateful for.
Sutton was expected to report to the Pirates Triple-A Indianapolis, but General Manager Neal Huntington didn’t want to stand in the way of a big league opportunity for him, so they traded the 28-year-old to the Rays, where he played in 18 games. It seemed like the third time was the charm. After Tampa placed him on waivers, the Pirates scooped him up and had an opening for him at the big league level.
“I think things usually have a way of happening the way they’re supposed to,” Sutton said. “I think that If I had signed during the offseason, maybe the situation would have been a little different when I came into spring training, because you had three or four guys battling for one spot. If I would have come over a month ago, I would have been in Triple-A. If I would have gotten called up, it might have been just to replace another bench player. It just kind of happened at the right time I guess. It just kind of allowed me to step in and maybe get a little more playing time than I otherwise would have, which is probably made it a lot more likely that I would stay as opposed to if I came in any other situation.”
“In no particular order: athleticism, versatility,” Manager Clint Hurdle said on what made them acquire him. “A switch-hitter that’s numbers have shown up. There’s some weight to the numbers. It’s not just a bat that hits from both sides of the plate, but he’s actually done some things from both sides of plate from the minor league level and his short Major League snap shot. We were looking to add the versatility also. ”
Since joining the Pirates, Sutton has played in 34 games and has been spending his playing time in the outfield, not his primary position. While he had some experience in both left and right field, his strength is at second and third base, but had not yet made a start in the infield. In fact, Sutton has even been heckled by fans after making a few blunders in right field just after making his third start of the season in that position. Since then, Sutton is trying to get more comfortable in the spacious outfield at PNC Park and adjusting to its several quirks out in left.
Sutton is coming off a hot month of June where he hit .313/.371/.438 over 15 games as a Pirate. He’s had three multi-hit games over his last 10, while driving in three RBI and five of his last six hits have been for extra bases.
“The immediately contributing part of it is always good,” Hurdle said. “He finds a way to strike a ball well just about once a game. He plays steady defense. We probably played used him more in the outfield more than we anticipated, but that’s the fit right now, that’s what speaks to his athleticism and versatility. He can do that. His best positions are in the infield and we haven’t even got him there yet. The ability to switch hit, that’s a plus as well. Our strongest team, will that be with Drew on the bench? Time will tell. But we know that we can plug him in. He’s provided some offense, provided some reliable defense, and held down a number of positions to get us through a tough period.”
Being able to hit in the clutch has been key for Sutton since joining Pittsburgh. He entered game action hitting .383 (18-for-47) with runners on base this year and is a .422 (27-for-64) lifetime hitter with RISP. In fact, his very first clutch hit was a RBI double on the road and after stepping on the second base bag after the knock was confused after looking into the Pirates dugout. The team was flashing the “Z” — their quirky hand symbol they flash whenever a player does something well for the team — and he had no idea what it was.
“Nobody told me what was going on. It’s not your first thing to ask when you get there on the first day. Alright, if I do something, like is there a sign to give or anything like that?,” Sutton said with a laugh. “So I had to learn out in the middle of the infield during the game. But I made sure they told me when I got back to the dugout.”
The Pirates chemistry has been key for their success this year and Sutton noticed it immediately upon walking into the clubhouse. Sutton has only been with the team for a month and a half, but knows he is a part of something building in Pittsburgh that is special. The Pirates are 10 games over .500 and are just a game back of the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central.
“I just think the ability to bounce back has been big,” Sutton said. “When you keep it close, fight to come back, sometimes when you don’t finish it, it can leave a bit of a hangover into the next day. The biggest thing is just the positive outlook. Being able to bounce back after losses or tough stretches.”
“You try not to get ahead of yourself, you try not to think about it, but you can’t help it. I was at dinner the other night and people were coming up and saying how excited they were that baseball is good again. I think the fans are a lot more excited about the possibility of having a winning team. It seems like what they’ve got going on in the minors, and what they’ve got developing here, it’s a good recipe for winning not just maybe this year, but years to come.”