Gregory Polanco’s Move to the Cleanup Spot Pays Off in Pirates Win

PITTSBURGH — With his offense scuffling through the months of June and July, Clint Hurdle had decided to make a big change to his lineup. The only problem with that was that the centerpiece of his change was on the shelf with a shoulder injury.

With Gregory Polanco back in the fray against the San Diego Padres Tuesday night, Hurdle was able to fully unveil his reworked top of the order that will see Polanco hit cleanup behind Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen.

Hurdle’s tinkering paid off in at least one inning, as Polanco drove in Harrison and McCutchen for a three-run home run in the fifth inning to give the Pirates the lead for good, en route to a 6-4 win.

“I would have had him in the cleanup spot if he would have been able to play four days ago,” Hurdle said. “That was going to be the spot he was going into. [Matt] Joyce went in there in his absence. [Polanco] has been our most efficient guy with RBI percentage. I like Marte in the two to try that and I like Polanco in the four to try something different. Our offense wasn’t producing like I feel we’re capable of producing.”

It was Polanco’s first major-league start as the cleanup hitter, but he said he “tried not to think about it.” Ironically, it was San Diego’s Luis Perdomo that may have been doing the overthinking.

With one out and a pair of dangerous runners on the base paths, Perdomo had Polanco at an 0-2 disadvantage, but he served up an elevated 92 MPH fastball that found home in the outfield seats in right center.

“As always, when you have two strikes, if you see a pitch close to the plate, you have to swing,” Polanco said. “He left it right there, and I put a good swing on it.”

Polanco described what he thought was the reason for his success with men on base this season — and also may have tipped the hand of the Pirates’ thinking with the new lineup.

“Guys like J-Hay, Cutch, Marte, they are in the pitchers’ minds,” Polanco explained. “They are thinking about that — the baserunners. I get better pitches to hit. I like to hit with men on base. I like the challenge and I try to stay ready and put a good swing to the ball.”

As for the rest of the lineup changes, those were mixed bag. Harrison went 2 for 5, but both of his hits were soft infield singles. Marte was 0 for 4 with a walk. McCutchen was 1 for 2 with a strikeout and three walks.


Chad Kuhl started and went six innings, giving up just two runs, both of which came in the first inning. The game was delayed 36 minutes by a brief thunderstorm, which Kuhl partially attributed to the rocky opening frame that contained two of his four walks and three of his five hits allowed.

“I was about to walk into the dugout [when they put the tarp out],” he said. “I was completely done warming up and then I had to warm up again. It was just a weird timing.”

After the first, Kuhl settled down and faced just one over the minimum through the next four frames. As usual, he relied heavily on his sinker, which allowed him to stay somewhat efficient and collect three double plays, including a key one in the sixth inning to snuff out a two-on, no-out situation.

“I felt like I had decent command, especially as the game went on,” he said. “I had a couple walks in the first, four walks [total]. You take away that first inning, that’s five innings and two walks. You’ll take that. Definitely better stuff tonight. Didn’t throw too many changeups, but the two-seamer was working. I got more ground balls than I’ve been getting. So, definitely better tonight.”

“The command sharpened up,” agreed Hurdle “I thought he kept the ball down better as the game went on. The slider played extremely well. He made some good pitches when he needed to make pitches, too. Three double plays played big for him tonight.”

Kuhl’s struggles in the first coincided with facing four left-handed hitters in five batters stacked at the top of the Padres’ lineup. All four of his walks we issued to lefties, as well. Left-handed hitters can be a bugaboo for many right-handed sinkerballers, so I asked Kuhl if he was approaching San Diego’s lefties differently.

“I try not to. I think it was that I missed arm side, and I did that to righties tonight, too. I was trying to go in there and it ran off a little too much. I think that’s from me not staying on it, kinda pulling off and it had that extra run to it instead of the sink. I think it’s just kinda mechanical.”


Ryan Vogelsong will take the hill for the second game of the series against Edwin Jackson Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. In his first start since coming off the disabled list with facial fractures, Vogelsong went six innings and gave up just one run on three hits last Thursday.

  • Kuhl looks like he has a higher ceiling than a 4th starter…

  • This should be the game of the year—- two of the worst possible washed up pitchers that each had great potential which wasn’t realized, yet somehow kept jobs in the mL

  • I’m surprised only one person has mentioned how poorly McCutchen played the ball that was ruled a double. It was a direct contrast to the way the Padre center fielder played the liner hit by Marte (I think) a little later, which looked on television like it was an even more difficult play.
    I assume that no matter what uniform he’s wearing in 2017, this is the last year he’s a starting center fielder.

    • Please let that be the case. Love the guy and all he has done to help resurrect the franchise, but it’s time to make the move and save a few runs by moving him to left.

  • Polanco wasn’t sitting with a shoulder injury, he was benched b/c he was productive as the owner wants to move to the team to Florida

  • It was a an important win with a couple of big takeaways.
    First, Kuhl was outstanding after surviving first inning troubles caused by a terrible misplay by McCutchen….an error ruled a double that drew loud boos by those in attendance.
    Second, the growing confidence and presence of Polanco at the plate. He just missed homeruns in his first two at bats and just crushed the 0-2 pitch in his third.
    His awareness, strength and power are light years ahead of what we were seeing a year ago. Rare are the soft liners to left that people touted as “going with the pitch.” This kid is knocking balls out that were giving him trouble last year. This long term contract is looking very good.

  • Michael Sanders
    August 10, 2016 7:11 am

    Didn’t Polanco leave 6 men on base yesterday?

    • did you watch the game? 2 of his outs were absolutely hit on the screws, just right at someone. So I’ll just go ahead and assume you didn’t see the game

      • I didn’t have the benefit of TV replay as I was sitting in section 120. But I did have the benefit of my ears. And on those first two fly balls, it sounded like he cracked his bat. Not the sound you’d associate with “hitting it on the screws”.

        • yea I’ll give you that, his first one caught him inside a tad more than the screws but I thought he put a good swing on it. I went back to watch it and I thought he hit it better, so my bad on that. The line drive with bases juiced he ripped.
          There are a lot of things to complain about, I just don’t understand how someone can complain about Polanco, he’s been one of our best players all year.

          • Michael Sanders
            August 16, 2016 5:20 pm

            If you were referring to me, I’m not sure how you would state that I was even remotely complaining.

      • Michael Sanders
        August 16, 2016 5:15 pm

        I just stated a fact. Did you see another game with other information in it?

    • Yes. Sometimes the 8 people in fair territory catch the baseball, no matter how hard you hit it.

  • Can someone explain to me how John Jaso, who was on 2nd base, got thrown out at home on Cervelli’s double off the top of the Clemente Wall? WTF? Just pathetic.

    • Very heavy, humid air caused some serious drag on the dreadlocks. He hit a wall rounding third and it was just too much for him.
      Pathetic is accurate. So was signing him and projecting him as a top of the order guy and first baseman.

    • he almost fell down rounding 3rd, it happens….but for the love of all things good…..#FREEJOSHBELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • No kidding. I am just completely fed up with Jaso still playing 1b every game. He can’t hit, he can’t field, and apparently he can’t run either. Every time I see Jaso come up I think wouldn’t Josh Bell look so much better hitting 6th in the lineup. The whole thing stopped making any sense whatsoever on August 1.

    • I’m thinking that he might of thought the ball was playable when Cervelli made contact. By the time he sees that it’s carrying to the wall, it was too late

      • SufferinBuccotash
        August 10, 2016 8:44 am

        I heard on the radio this morning that Jaso was walking back to second to tag up when Cervelli’s ball hit off the top of the wall. I saw a replay of the hit and the ball hit about 2 feet from the top of a 21 foot high wall. I don’t know how someone could think that ball would have been playable. The stumble around third pretty much sealed his fate at the plate.

  • Funny how the beginning of the season was all about the analytics of the lineup and high OBP at the top of the order. And now it’s like — let’s just mix this up and see if we can find something that works, and they put their lowest OBP hitter at the top. I don’t necessarily disagree with shaking things up, it’s just an interesting contrast that says something about how this season has gone so far.

    • It’s only three games, but Josh at the top is working. I wouldn’t put him there either based on his career OBP, however, whenever he’s been put at leadoff in his career (SSS), it seems to work.

    • Well if one thing isn’t working, you make adjustments, and reevaluate. The beginning of the season, they were making assumptions based off of historical numbers. For the most, Jaso and McCutchen especially, that didn’t work out. They gave that more than half the season. Now they’re shuffling things around and I think whatever sticks, they’ll be going with. That’s what they did last year, and I think it helps to keep everyone limber and focus on the approach rather than their assigned number.

      • Completely agree….it was time to shake things up. While I don’t like Harrison’s low OBP, I do like the hustle and how he takes some attention away from the pitcher when he is on base.

  • Edwin Jackson? Jesus, I guess the Padres youth movement continues