PITTSBURGH — Gregory Polanco returned to the Pirates’ starting lineup on Friday, going 2 for 4 and hitting a home run as one of the few bright spots in the Pirates’ 8-1 series-opening loss to the New York Mets.
With Polanco returning, the Pirates are back to having two-thirds of their Opening Day outfield. But the other spot seems a lot less up in the air than it did when Starling Marte first left the team to serve his suspension.
Adam Frazier has been on an absolute tear and seems to have solidified a starting left field spot for the time being. That leaves John Jaso as the odd man out of the rotation in the outfield. Jaso has a .658 OPS — just barely better than Andrew McCutchen’s — but has been on something of a better stretch recently. He started eight of the last nine games and in that stretch has a .296 batting average.
If he can maintain that pace and be around his career-average OPS of .793 against right-handed hitters, Jaso can be a very useful bench player going forward. But the trick will be keeping the progress made intact as he transitions from an every-day spot to a part-time role.
“The game presents opportunities,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There will be a day as Gregory works back when he’s not going to play 12 days in a row. We’ve got a time frame when we can work (Jaso) in. He’ll get a day here and there. We can plan them out. That opportunity can fall to John. There’s double switches involved.”
It’s a similar situation to what the Pirates did with Jaso when he lost his starting job at first base to Bell in the middle of the season last year. In that circumstance, Jaso thrived when given a more limited role. When Bell became an everyday player on August 21, Jaso was hitting .255. By the end of September, it was all the way up to .268.
“I do think that helped him rekindle, with less being more for him at the time and him being sharper with it,” Hurdle said.” The other thing we had to own up to last year was that we had him out there. Once we got him in a pretty good volume of games and at-bats, as we looked to what he’d done in the past, he was on pace to play way more than he’d ever played before. That might have been a reason he had fatigue the second half of the season. He’ll tell you today, he didn’t feel it. We saw some things. A little time down. We put him back in there, there was a little spark and he was able to finish strong.”
PIECES AND PARTS
The Pirates’ bench also seems to have solidified for the time being, with Jaso joined by Alen Hanson, Gift Ngoepe, Jose Osuna, and Chris Stewart. It’s mix of left-handers, right-handers, and switch hitters, with Hanson and Ngoepe providing above-average speed and Ngoepe and Stewart quality defense. There may not be a lot of starting potential in the group, but Hurdle seems pleased with his bench mix right now.
“We have a couple of multiple-position defenders, one defensive specialist that’s got some legs,” Hurdle said. “Hanson provides some leg speed. It suits us right now.”
BACK IN ORDER
Hurdle said right-handed reliever Daniel Hudson is back in a place where he could pitch the eighth inning if necessary. But that won’t happen on Saturday, because Hudson is unavailable after throwing two perfect innings Friday night.
Hudson struck out three and needed just 19 pitches to get through two frames. He has now thrown five straight scoreless appearances over 5.1 innings.
** RHP Josh Lindblom and LHP Antonio Bastardo will start rehab assignments with Triple-A Indianapolis Saturday. Lindblom, who is recovering from left oblique discomfort, was placed on the disabled list May 20 and is eligible to be removed in three days. Bastardo landed on the DL on April 25 with a left quad strain and is already eligible to be removed. Bastardo had been pitching in extended spring training.
** C Francisco Cervelli (head cold) left Friday’s game in the ninth inning, but is scheduled to start on Saturday.
Gerrit Cole vs Zack Wheeler
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) May 27, 2017