PITTSBURGH — From pretty much every angle, the John Jaso experiment has been a successful one for the Pirates. The former catcher made the switch to first base at the beginning of the season, and he’s acquitted himself well defensively, along with his expected offensive contributions.
“I’m coming along alright,” Jaso said of his continued tutelage at first base. “I’m feeling more and more comfortable every day. At the beginning in spring training, I did have some jitters out there and some butterflies, but it kind of just calmed down by getting reps out there and experience. I’m just getting more comfortable. I don’t think I’m the best in the game, but I think I can hold my weight over there.”
Jaso, is not, however, at the point where is finished learning. Manager Clint Hurdle has taken to using Sean Rodriguez as a defensive substitute in the late innings, especially when the Pirates are leading.
“I’m hoping to get to that point,” Jaso said. “If I get defensively substituted for, it’s happened to me my whole career as a catcher. I wasn’t the best catcher in the game, either. It’s always happened and I don’t care. It’s OK. It speaks a lot for the other guys, I think. Sean is a really good defender. If I was managing, I’d want to stack my defense, too. I don’t take offense to it at all.”
The Pirates, however, aren’t just interested in seeing Jaso maximize his potential with the glove. They also feel that they can use Rodriguez’ athleticism to do some things that almost no one else is doing at first base.
“We’re taking athleticism and putting it in a spot where a lot of guys don’t usually have it and we’re seeing how we can maximize that,” Rodriguez said. “So, it’s playing off the line a lot, trying to take that hole away from right-handed hitters, playing a little deeper against left-handed hitters that pull, you don’t have to play so far into the bag.”
Rodriguez, who is a natural shortstop but has played all over the diamond, said not to take first-base defense lightly.
“It’s definitely a lot harder than people see. Not only to play it but, to make every play. Because if you don’t, it comes down on you hard.”
The ability to push the envelope with defense does come with a cost. Several times, a late-game comeback by the opponent has meant that Rodriguez has come up to bat in high-leverage situations late in games. Hurdle said that he hopes to get Jaso to the point that he can play all nine innings at first base, but there isn’t anything specific Jaso is still working on.
“It’s nothing on John,” reiterated first-base coach Nick Leyva, who also coaches the infielders. “The range factor comes into play. When we shift, John’s [position] might be 20 feet off the bag, while Sean’s might be 30 feet off the bag. On a ground ball, he can still get to first base in plenty of time to make a play.”
Jaso said the team’s multitude of defenses and the inherent differences in an infield position from that of catcher just mean that there are lots of different things he’s yet to see at first base.
“It’s just that I haven’t had experience,” Jaso said. “I haven’t certain balls hit to me, I haven’t had to make certain throws that you can only replicate at game speed. That’s all it is is getting reps. I’m still new, I’m still learning the position. That’s the way it goes until you get that solid time under your belt.”
“Right now, there’s not even a thought in our mind of him not being able to play first base on the fundamental end of it,” Leyva said. “He’s turned the corner on it and he’s actually pretty good over there now.”
Jeff Locke will face the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner Monday night. The Pirates have not yet announced a starter for Tuesday night against Johnny Cueto. Wilfredo Boscan is the scheduled starter for Triple-A Indianapolis and would be the prime candidate to take the spot of Juan Nicasio, who is expected to miss the start while on the restricted list.