INDIANAPOLIS – He knew things needed to be fixed.
Phil Gosselin wasn’t blind to his struggles with the Pirates this season. He wasn’t hitting at the level he has in the past. And there were a couple of costly defensive miscues. Being optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on May 8 wasn’t ideal, but far from the end of the world. Gosselin is approaching the move down a level as an opportunity to fix himself.
So far, he appears to be figuring things out. Gosselin is hitting .405/.435/.500 in 12 games with Indianapolis and has not committed an error in the field.
“Sometimes you just need to get sent down here, hit reset and get it going again,” Gosselin said. “Nobody wants to get sent down, but I think long-term it was the right move for me. I’m excited about figuring things out.”
Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett spoke to Gosselin when he arrived in Indianapolis, but they didn’t have a “dissertation” on what led to being optioned. They simply had a short conversation that identified some issues.
“That’s because I don’t want them to focus on all of these things they’ve been focusing on since they were sent down,” Barkett said. “We quickly say, ‘Here’s the problem.’ Now, what are we going to do about it.’”
The first part of the solution was simple: get Gosselin in the lineup, so he can pile up at-bats in a hurry. Gosselin has played in all but one of 13 games since joining the Indians, including playing both games of two double-headers.
As a utility player, Gosselin isn’t going to get regular at-bats in the big leagues. He only had one at-bat in 11 of his 19 games with the Pirates, due to being a late substitution. And when you’re struggling offensively, not getting regular at-bats isn’t going to help the cause.
“The thought is we get him down (in Indianapolis) and let him play on a regular basis,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “Now, he’s still going to bounce around the field defensively. But he’s going to see a ton of pitches and get a ton of at-bats. The best way to get back to where you were is quantity. We need to get him some consistent work offensively and defensively to get him back to where he was and at the point where he can help us.”
The attention playing for Triple-A Indianapolis will be minimal, as Gosselin will out of the major league spotlight. The Indians have a pretty laid back clubhouse that seems to get along well. The hope is all of those attributes will allow Gosselin to relax, improve and play with confidence again.
“It’s a good time to kind of heal and get yourself ready to go back up into the big show,” Barkett said.
Now, though, the second part of the solution is a little more complicated. Gosselin hit just .138/.167/.172 in 19 games with the Pirates before being optioned to Indianapolis. Gosselin’s timing at the plate needed to improve, specifically syncing up his leg movement with his swing.
“I was kind of rushed getting back, then I wasn’t getting back all the way back on my legs and not giving myself much of a chance to hit,” Gosselin said.
So far, so good. Gosselin is riding a 10-game hitting streak. And that’s after he went 0-for-6 in his first two games with the Indians. During his 10-game hitting streak, Gosselin is batting .472 with five multi-hit games, including a pair of 3-hit games.
“He can hit,” Barkett said. “He’s playing with freedom. He’s nice and relaxed. He’s getting everyday at-bats and has gotten himself into a little bit of a rhythm. He’s having really good at-bats night in and night out.”
Gosselin has shown the ability to play well at the major league level, hitting .277/.324/.368 in 220 at-bats with Arizona last season. He hit .311/.373/.500 in 106 at-bats with Arizona and Atlanta in 2015. He was brought to Pittsburgh in a trade for right-handed pitcher Frank Duncan. Gosselin was expected to provide a bat off the bench and be a versatile defender.
Gosselin hit .328/.328/.469 in 64 at-bats during Spring Training. But somewhere between there and the regular season, Gosselin hit a wall. He was hitless in his first nine at-bats and he never showed signs of picking up his production before being optioned to Indianapolis.
“It’s been a tough go for Phil,” Huntington said. “We felt he could be a versatile defender and provide us with a bench bat. It’s been a challenge for him. Defensively he hasn’t handled some things that he handled last year. And offensively that’s a hard role and we understand that.”
Huntington acknowledged being a utility player is difficult, with at-bats few and far between at times. The hope is a trip to Triple-A will get Gosselin playing like he did with Arizona.
“I didn’t get a ton of at-bats in Arizona, either,” Gosselin said. “I was in kind of a similar role, so it’s something I know how to do but for whatever reason you start going in the wrong direction.”
Gosselin has things going back in the right direction, which will likely lead to a new role with Indianapolis. He is currently in the lineup everyday in order to get as many at-bats as possible. But the end goal is getting Gosselin not only ready to return to the Pirates, but to succeed there in a utility role.
“To be a major league player in that utility role, part of the deal is you don’t play for a while and you have to be able to be good when they do call on you,” Barkett said. “Once he gets some at-bats with Triple-A, might use him in different roles that he would experience with the Pirates with later double-switches in NL games. He almost will be trained for the bench role.”
Gosselin had figured things out at the plate recently in Indianapolis, evident by getting a hit nearly every other time up to bat. Soon, he may start playing in a utility role in order to see if he can carry his offensive production into a more limited role. In the field, he has been solid playing second base, third base and shortstop. Ideally, Gosselin will maintain his current momentum and once again turn himself into a productive utility player that can help the Pirates off the bench.