Pirates Notebook: Young Players Adjusting to New Roles

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates have plenty of youngsters on the roster, with 13 players age 26 or younger currently.

With most young players, there is an adjustment period when they first come up to the majors and part of the struggles of young pitchers like Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow can be attributed to the fact that they’re honing their craft at the very highest level.

But at some level, Kuhl and Glasnow are doing what they’ve always done. Other young players have had to go through the double-whammy process of coming up to the majors as a regular for the first time and then adjusting to a new role in the process.

Adam Frazier came up as a utility player but thanks to injuries and Starling Marte’s suspension, he’s been asked to become an everyday player and the team’s regular leadoff hitter. Jose Osuna was a starter for most of his minor-league career but has been relegated to starting against left-handers and pinch-hitting. Alen Hanson has gone as many as three straight days without ever getting his uniform dirty.

“These guys they hit three, four and five (in the batting order) most of their minor-league career and then they come up here and they have to learn how to play off the bench,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s a challenge to that.”

Osuna came through with two big hits in the Pirates’ come-from-behind win against Arizona on Monday. He had to be called on in an emergency to replace injured outfielder Gregory Polanco, but Osuna wasn’t even in the dugout when it happened. He was back in the batting cage, which has become part of the regular routine he’s developed to be ready for a late-inning opportunity.

“I really make a plan and a routine to be ready late in the game,” Osuna said. “I have to make a difference when I get in there. That’s what I’m doing right now.”

The transition wasn’t necessarily an easy one. Hurdle pointed out that Osuna still doesn’t have a pinch hit, but he is having success coming in as part of a double switch. Osuna has a .751 OPS in 86 plate appearances thus far.

“Any time he’s out there helping us win games, it’s good. It’s building confidence,” Hurdle said. “He’s learning up here. He’s adjusting and adapting.”

Through 35 games, Osuna is finally starting to feel comfortable in the role.

“The first week was a little bit hard, but now I feel like I’ve been doing it for a lot of time,” he said. “Everything is like that. You make an adjustment and go.”

HORSE IN THE STABLE

Frazier will get the day off on Tuesday for the second straight day. Hurdle thought there was a genuine amount of fatigue that had entered Frazier’s game. He played 10 games in 11 days after returning quickly from a hamstring strained that required a platelet-rich plasma injection.

By the end of that stretch, Frazier was 3 for his last 18, cooling off considerably from the hot stretch that had teammate David Freese talking openly about a batting title.

“I think he ran the bases so much, there was some fatigue,” Hurdle joked.

Frazier also made another point when it comes to his recent struggles: it was his first time facing the New York Mets. Now that he’s not just a part-time player, teams have a lot more incentive to game-plan against him. But the first time is something of a crapshoot. The pitchers go with something and he has to be the first one to make an adjustment.

“They’re trying to figure me out and I’m trying to figure them out,” he said. “That was the first time I’d faced the Mets. A lot of heaters and a lot of sliders. I’m learning how to game plan for them, too.”

As he starts to get a better feel for how certain pitchers and teams are going to attack him, Frazier thinks it will get easier for him to lock in on a specific pitch or location.

“I’d like to say it’s an advantage for me, especially if I’ve had some success early,” he said. “I feel more comfortable. They might feel more comfortable, too, but they still have to execute the pitches. They’re kind of on the defensive side.”

DIAZ DIALED UP

The Pirates place Chris Stewart on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Stewart is set to have MRIs on Wednesday and he said that he felt worse when he woke up Tuesday than he did Monday night after the injury.

For Diaz, it’s yet another trip up to Pittsburgh where playing time may be hard to come by. He’s expected to take over Stewart’s role of giving Francisco Cervelli the occasional day off. But don’t expect him to complain about the situation.

“It’s not old yet,” he laughed. “I’m lucky enough to play this game in the major. I’m excited to be here. I just want to enjoy it and do my best.”

Diaz was also quick to point out that even if he’s not getting into games, he’s still learning a lot being at the major-league level. He gets more familiar with the Pirates’ staff and gets to pick the brains of Cervelli and bench coach Tom Prince.

“We learn every day,” he said. “If I’m able to spend a couple days here and learn something, I’ll take that and put it into practice.”

STARTING LINEUP

  • justinblain1996
    May 30, 2017 10:30 pm

    The backup catcher position is tricky to handle. Part of it to me seems like the young pitchers benefit from Stewart being a veteran and calling good games, but also you could argue that these pitchers are comfortable with Diaz as he has been with them all through the minors. Not saying we should cut Stewart, just saying there are benefits to both and with a young pitching staff I wonder what is the bigger benefit

  • Love Frazier’s offensive mindset. Unsurprising as it is. Really hope he gets back into form in the next couple of days.

  • Darkstone42
    May 30, 2017 9:15 pm

    Hard luck outing for Nova. Goldy hit that leadoff double hard, but everything else in the inning was perfectly placed soft contact. Any batted ball luck at all, and he might have thrown a complete game again.

  • Nice to see Gift in the lineup.

    • If only it was at SS! Mercer’s lack of range hurts them again!

      • Hillary's landslide loss
        May 31, 2017 2:16 am

        Not putting any runs on the board certainly absolves Mercer from this loss.

    • He is definitely great to watch defensively, and his hitting has improved over the past year. However, this team still lacks a legit leadoff hitter and has very little ability in the lineup to steal bases. A team struggling to score runs may think those resources could be valuable . . . . . or not! Those attributes are a large part of Alen Hanson’s game, and he plays 2B pretty well also.

      If the Pirates do start to play for the future then I could see Hanson at 2B and Ngoepe at SS until Newman or Tucker are ready. Mercer is having an excellent year so far at the plate – 26 Walks and only 28 K’s, and has hit for power – lots of balls hit squarely, but right at somebody. Could be time for Mercer to become the backup for the whole infield.

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