PITTSBURGH, Pa. — When infielder Matt Hague arrived to the clubhouse at PNC Park on Saturday, he saw Hague with the No. 3 next to his name in a Major League lineup for the first time since breaking camp with the club out of spring training.
“I was excited,” Hague said when he saw his name in the lineup card. “A little anxious. But most of all, just glad to be in the lineup and for the opportunity.”
The 26-year-old will bat fifth for the Bucs and play first base in his Major League debut against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“There will be a lot of emotions out there for Matt,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, the game’s over, whatever happens will have happened. By then he’ll be able to catch his breath and hopefully he’ll settle down and say, ‘I can do this.’ There will be a lot of emotions going on. I’m sure if you spoke to every man out there for the first time, first start. I can remember mine. It was some what of a blur. You prepare for this for such a long time, and then it’s on you.”
The lefty on the mound Hague will face is a familiar one. The Phillies’ Cliff Lee faced Hague during Grapefruit League action in spring training in Florida. Facing Lee in a big league debut is a challenge. Talk about baptism by fire.
“It’s why they call it the big leagues,” Hurdle said.
“It was just spring training, but I got an idea of what he likes to do,” Hague said of facing the Cy Young Award Winner. “I’m just going to get ready for the game to start and see what happens.”
Hague, 26, broke camp with the club after playing in his first big league spring training. The first baseman lead the team in avg (.400) as well as home runs (7) and ranked second in RBI (14).
Making his Major League debut is something that Hague has been dreaming about since being a little kid. The 9th round pick by Pittsburgh in 2008 spent the 2011 with Triple-A Indianapolis. Hague led the International League in hits (165), games (141) and at-bats (534) and also set career highs in hits and doubles (37). Hague became the first Indy player to lead the league in hits since Junior Noboa in 1989. Hague finished the season with a .309 average, which ranked sixth in the International League, and hit 12 homers and drove in 75.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Hague said after batting practice. “I think I’m more excited than anything. I’m ready for the game to start already. The first at bat, I’m going to be a little nervous, but I’m going to have a little fun with it.”
“All the things that have made him a good minor league hitter, it’s the quality of his at-bats, pitch recognition,” Hurdle said on what he sees from Hague to be a successful Major League player. “The ability to barrel the ball from line to line. He hit’s the ball all over the park. He’s been able to stay in and fight with some at-bats. He’s not afraid to take a strike, not afraid to hit with two strikes.”
“That’s the thing I’ve probably been impressed with the most with is the number of at bats he had this spring that were over eight pitches. It’s just putting a foot down, battling with the at-bat and wrestling with the pitcher. The barrel has shown up with more regularity. He’s just firing off a very good swing and the balls that were elevated that stayed in the strike zone, he’s put good swings on.”