MIAMI – Last night the Pirates had a comfortable lead late in a 12-2 blowout, which allowed them to give some of their starters a bit of rest. By the end of the game, the infield had an alignment with Josh Bell at first base, Phil Gosselin at second, Gift Ngoepe at shortstop, and Alen Hanson at third base. It wasn’t too extreme. Bell was at his normal position, and the other three were infielders who had played those spots (with Gift also at his normal position).
The outfield, on the other hand, was a bit unusual. Gregory Polanco moved over to center field, with John Jaso in right and Jose Osuna in left. It was hardly the alignment you’d want to see when it comes to defense, and definitely not an alignment you’d want in a closer game.
Today the Pirates placed David Freese on the disabled list as the third baseman continues to suffer a hamstring issue. The corresponding move addressed the outfield defense, with Danny Ortiz added from Indianapolis.
I wrote throughout the week about how the Pirates have seen issues on both offense and defense this year. They have a lot of utility players playing multiple positions, and some positions where they aren’t as strong defensively. Unfortunately, teams don’t usually have options lying around who can provide both offense and defense. You typically need to choose between one of the two for your bench options. In this case, the Pirates opted for defense over offense.
“It gives us a defender at all three spots, and a guy to make a spot start,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about the move to add Ortiz. “As you plan for different scenarios, say [Andrew] McCutchen and [Gregory] Polanco tweak in the same game, who plays center?”
Hurdle said that in that scenario before, Josh Harrison or Alen Hanson would have been the choices for center field. Now, Ortiz will be the emergency option in center field, along with a defensive replacement in the outfield.
“Danny Ortiz is a very good defender,” Hurdle said. “He’s been a very good organizational man and player. Had a very good spring with us. Finished a strong winter ball, good spring. So he gives us that option to defend late if we need to, or spot start.”
Ortiz received the news last night while he was in his hotel room, on the road with Indianapolis.
“I was really shocked and surprised,” Ortiz said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “This is something you work really hard to get to. It’s a dream come true.”
The Pirates called up a strong defensive option with poor hitting projections earlier in the week when they added Gift Ngoepe, only to see Ngoepe reach base safely seven of his first eight plate appearances. It seems unlikely that Ortiz will have the same surprising results on offense, especially with a .499 OPS in Indianapolis to start the year. He did have a good offseason and a good Spring Training, but that hasn’t carried over to the season.
“I’ve been working very hard at [the offense], especially since winter ball, just spending a lot more time working on my judgment at the plate,” Ortiz said.
Anything the Pirates get from Ortiz on offense is going to be a bonus, as his key role will be defense. He can play all three outfield spots, and says he feels comfortable at any position, with center field leading the way.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a center fielder, and I feel the most comfortable in center field,” Ortiz said. “But ever since I got signed, they started shifting me around to the corners of the outfield. I feel comfortable in any position in the outfield. But that passion and comfort is always in center field.”
If the Pirates take a lead against the Marlins, it will be interesting to see if they swap out John Jaso for Ortiz late in the game.
Making a Decision on Freese
David Freese missed the last three games while the Pirates waited to see how his hamstring issue was progressing. They have played the waiting game in the past before placing guys on the disabled list, but the new 10-day disabled list changes that process, allowing for an easier decision.
“It is an easier move,” Hurdle said. “The real part on the other side is the injury is the injury. Just because they’re hurt doesn’t mean it goes away in 10 days versus 15. Frazier is trying to work through his. David is best suited to take the time he needs to take to come back good. Not okay. To come back in a good spot. He was in a very good spot for us to this point. We wanted to make sure he doesn’t feel pressed to get back, and we’ll move on from here.”
Hurdle didn’t really discuss how long Freese would be out — other than the vague comments above– or whether Frazier would be able to return next week at the end of his DL stint. But the fact that they waited a few days with Freese, playing a man short in the process, suggests they originally believed he might not be out for a long period of time.
Freese was back-dated to April 26th, so the earliest he could return would be May 6th, or a week from today.
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 29, 2017