PITTSBURGH — Adam Frazier will start his third straight game for the Pirates in left field since returning from the disabled list on May 13. Left field seems to be his new regular spot, with Gregory Polanco returning to his usual position of right field when he returns from his sore hamstring.
Left field is the outfield position he’s played the most since he began transitioning to playing some outfield in Double-A in 2015. He started by playing more center field that season. But in 2016, he played 380 innings in left field with Indianapolis and another 107.1 with Pittsburgh.
It’s the most he’s played of any of the three outfield positions and at the major-league level, it’s the place he’s best been able to show off his wheels in the field, making 10 out-of-zone plays in his 160.1 innings at the level per Fangraphs. With Polanco moving back to right, his glove is the primary reason for Frazier in left.
“At our park, I think he can give us a little bit more range than either [John] Jaso or [Jose] Osuna,” manger Clint Hurdle said on Tuesday, but Hurdle added that Frazier remains an unfinished product in left.
“I think he’s still working at it,” he said. “He’s show the ability to get good breaks, good jumps and go get balls. It’s still working on it though, the overall consistency. … It’s all about reps for me, experience, and just playing more out there. The more he plays, the better he’ll get.”
Of course, most of Frazier’s value is tied up in his bat, which will also be a welcome addition. Frazier is currently third on the team with an .812 OPS.
“He’s shown the ability to get on base and score runs,” Hurdle said. “It’s a good bat to have in our lineup.”
HARPING ON LEFTIES
Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates and he’ll face some more talented left-handers after the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to touch him for four runs in five innings the last time out. It was left-handed hitters Cody Bellinger and Chase Utley that did the bulk of the damage. Against the Washington Nationals, it’ll be Bryce Harper and Matt Wieters that will challenge from the left side of the plate.
“That’s the split that’s been a little problematic for him early in the season,” Hurdle said. “In L.A., the first inning, a couple lefties got him. After that, he got the lefties. He’s pitched against [Washington] before. He did in the second half last year and had a very solid start. So, [Kuhl’s] got to be able to execute, command the fastball, throw the changeup, throw the secondary pitches in offensive counts and have a spin pitches that works to back-foot or back-door these guys. It’ll be a great opportunity for him to go out there and pitch against a very good lineup.”
Against left-handed hitters this season, Kuhl has allowed left-handers to hit for a 1.199 OPS, while right-handed hitters have just a .495 OPS. Teams have been stacking lefties against him, as well. Through seven starts, he’s thrown to left-handers 67 times and right-handers 73.
Harper is a lineup mainstay, but he has been feasting on right-handed pitching this season, with a 1.290 OPS and all 12 of his home runs and all 34 of his RBIs coming against righties.
BELL FOR NINE?
Hurdle continues to use late-game defensive replacements for Josh Bell at first base, with Osuna and Jaso both playing the role of defensive specialist at that spot. Bell has finished just 18 of the 32 games he’s started, despite showing improved defense that has him at 2 Defensive Runs Saved. Hurdle said there’s no magic formula to when Bell will be allowed to finish games with more regularity.
“It’s not quantifiable at all,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to share here on some certain sauce or recipe or equation. It’s my eyes. I talk to Joey daily about improvement, advancement, work being done. You look forward to that day. However, when you have a guy with a better opportunity, that has better skills, they need to be out there at the end of the game.”
C 🇮🇹 🇻🇪
Chad Kuhl vs. Stephen Strasburg
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) May 16, 2017
Polanco (left hamstring) took part in pre-game warm-ups but his availability, along with reliever Felipe Rivero (neck) was uncertain before the game.