PITTSBURGH — The Pirates are in the midst of a stretch of seven consecutive games against American League opponents and after Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, they will shift to five consecutive games in AL ballparks.
That comes with a shift to AL rules, and the Pirates will be playing with a designated hitter for the first time since the first week of June. The Pirates have played five games in AL parks this season and they’ve used Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, David Freese (twice) and Gregory Polanco at the DH spot so far this year.
Manager Clint Hurdle seems to be keeping his options open for the upcoming series, as well, with those players as well as a couple others presenting themselves as options.
“We have the opportunity to get Andrew (McCutchen) off his feet if need be,” Hurdle said. “We have the opportunity to get Freese matched up against left-handing pitching. A guy like Frazier can play. (John) Jaso can play the field if you pull Bell out. There’s a chance that we’ll mix those guys around. Polanco, we can get him off his feet and get him a breather based on what he’s done. We’re going to have five opportunities to mixed and match. I’ve already drawn some things out but I’m going to talk to Andrew first and see what his thoughts are.”
The trip to Toronto puts an emphasis on the physical toll of playing in the outfield, because Rogers Centre is the last MLB venue that still has an AstroTurf surface.
“It’s definitely a different environment for our guys that aren’t used to playing on it,” Hurdle said.
POLANCO A GO
The last time the Pirates went to Canada, they played the Toronto Blue Jays in Montreal for a pair of preseason games in March. Polanco didn’t make the trip with the team to Canada because he was in the process of applying for permanent citizenship and couldn’t get his passport back in time. He was also recovering from a shoulder injury and the preseason nature of the games made the decision to keep him back in Florida while the team went north an easy one.
This time, the games will count and Polanco’s absence would hurt the team dearly, but he said Tuesday that he has everything squared away for the foreign trip.
Relief pitcher Juan Nicasio earned his second save of the season in his 56th game on Monday. He got the call in the ninth inning because closer Felipe Rivero wasn’t available for the game. For much of the season, Rivero has been among the league leaders in games played for a relief pitcher, but Nicasio has now passed him for the top spot on the Pirates and all of the majors.
“He’s help up extremely well,” Hurdle said. “We’ve actually had to pull the reins back on him a couple times when he says he’s available. He’s a very physically strong man.”
Nicasio has pitched three times in four days, so he will be unavailable Tuesday, but Rivero should be ready to go.
Sean Rodriguez will start in right field, meaning that he will play at least four different positions (second base, first base, shortstop and right) in his first three games with the Pirates. Hurdle is showing faith that Rodriguez’s defense hasn’t been affected by the car accident and subsequent recovery that cost him most of the 2017 season.
“I want to give him the opportunity,” Hurdle said. “I don’t want to say he’s the same guy. It’s not fair to him. He has no Spring Training, he’s had a handful of minor-league games and now he’s playing in the big leagues. He’ll show you what he can do and he’s going to get the opportunity to do it.”
The Pirates loaded up with right-handed hitters against lefty Detroit starter Matthew Boyd. Boyd doesn’t have much of a platoon split for his career, but this season, right-handers have an .861 OPS against him while lefties have a .766 mark. … The Pirates have won six of their last seven games against left-handed starters. … Jose Osuna will make his second start at first base in three games. He is hitting .303/.346/.513 against lefties this year.