PITTSBURGH — For the first time since June 8, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon will be in the Pirates lineup Tuesday night to open the series with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Cervelli and Taillon were reinstated from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday afternoon. Cervelli had been out since June 10 after having surgery to removed the broken hook of his hamate bone. Taillon had been on the shelf since June 28 with shoulder fatigue. Polanco hasn’t played at all since July 8 and had been hampered for some time before that with a left hamstring injury.
To get all three back at the same time will be a huge boost for the Pirates, who, after a three-game visit to Washington, will play eight straight home games. Manager Clint Hurdle said that three injured players — along with Gerrit Cole, who made his return in Washington — will be the biggest additions that the team makes for the second half.
“We have a couple guys on board that we feel confident are going to bounce back to the level of play that they’ve had in the past, as well,” he added, referencing Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang.
Hurdle also credited the players that allowed the team to go on its best run of play this season while missing so many key pieces. Catcher Erik Kratz was designated for assignment and rookie pitcher Chad Kuhl was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the 25-man roster for Cervelli and Taillon.
“The guys we’ve had have done a very good job,” Hurdle said. “We’ve been able to play some of our best baseball of the season in the last two or three weeks. We again played some of our best baseball with Erik and [Eric Fryer] behind the plate,” Hurdle said. “The learning curve was quick. The transition was seemingly smooth. They both did a lot of work in a hurry to get in a good place with the staff, get the pitchers in sequence, control the running game, the framing, the blocking, was all average and above.”
As far as Kuhl goes, he’s another one in a series of Pirates’ young players that has come up to the majors and performed well, only to be sent back down to Indy for one reason or another. Hurdle said he’s had a consistent message with all of them.
“It’s an organizational strength that we’ve all worked together to put ourselves in the position to have that kind of depth and the vision to work it through,” Hurdle said. “It’s circumstance, it’s not performance. It’s situation, not performance. It’s roster construction at the time of the move, not performance. It’s an eye-opening part of the reality of the game at this level when you do have options. That’s going to get used when it makes most sense for the club. I do make sure they understand the value they brought when they were here.”
Hurdle feels strongly that Kuhl will be given another opportunity to show his stuff with Pittsburgh this season.
“We have guys that we can go back to, to revisit,” Hurdle said. “We’re getting stronger. It also gives you a peek behind he curtain at what’s in front of us down the road, which is exciting in of itself. The focus is now in what we’re doing and they’ve already helped us now. I do believe that just about every one of them you’ve see, you’re probably going to get a chance to see again sometime.”
Kuhl’s move to the minors creates a hole in the starting rotation on Saturday. Hurdle announced that as “TBA” for now, but it’s worth noting that Tyler Glasnow is the scheduled starter for Indianapolis that day. Hurdle said the reason that Kuhl was selected to go down instead of reliever was that Juan Nicasio and Jon Niese, who both pitched three innings on Sunday, are probably still not available.
Injuries are nothing new to Taillon, but unlike the season-ending sports hernia and Tommy John surgeries he has had in the last two seasons, the recovery from his fatigued shoulder involved nothing more than taking a few days off.
“I’m feeling good,” he said Sunday in Washington. “I think when we decided to put me on the DL, we were going to let the shoulder calm down a little bit and also manage the innings and put me in a position to do well in the second half. I think we accomplished that and I’m feeling really good.”
Coming off back-to-back seasons with little work, keeping Taillon’s innings to a minimum has been an organization priority. Taillon is hopeful that the time off will be helpful to that end.
“They keep telling me that they’re going to find ways to be creative, skip a start here, skip a start there,” he said. “The goal has always been to be able to finish the year with innings (left). Hopefully, this little two-week stint and the start I skipped in Indy, those two combined are going to allow me to take the ball pretty consistently.”
Taillon hasn’t let the looming red light on his availability enter his mind much during the season, saying that “it’s something that I probably honestly worried about more in spring training.” This will be the first time he’s gone through a mid-season injury in his career.
“It’s new,” he said. “Then again, pitching a full season would be new for me since I haven’t done it in a while, either. Hopefully, it sets me up for a strong second half.”
On that front, Taillon hopes that the time off won’t undo any of the progress that he feels he made with his first five starts.
“The goal is to pitch like I never had any time off,” he said. “I was starting to learn some things up here: what works, what doesn’t work. I was starting to make adjustments on the fly and we were starting to work pretty well with that. I’m looking to pick up where I left off and keep learning, growing and hopefully taking the ball every fifth day.”
Polanco will bat second, with McCutchen batting third. They had been flipped in the order for most of the first half. David Freese will start in Kang’s usual spot at third base. The Pirates’ bullpen will have a new look. All of the relievers had their heads shaved.