PITTSBURGH — Josh Bell is a 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He looks more like a defensive end than a first baseman and though mild-mannered, he certainly seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of.
But somehow, his nickname, earned over the course of his minor-league career, is “Tinkerbell.”
Bell is — to the best of my reporting ability — not a fairy, nor does he possess pixie dust. But it’s an apt nickname nonetheless, not due to his physical stature or ability to fly, but because he spends most of his energy at the clubhouse tinkering with his swing mechanics. His last name is Bell. You get it yet?
Clever nickname aside, Bell has earned his reputation. Friday night, he hit a home run with a new bat. He’s completely changed the way he gathers himself before his swing this season, going from a big step to more of a toe tap and then all the way back again, all in an effort to get his front foot down sooner. Those haven’t been linear processes. Every day, it seems, it’s been too much of something or not enough of something else and so Bell goes back to the video, back to the batting cage and well, tinkers. Then you can multiply that effort by two, as Bell has had different swings from each side of the plate.
It adds up to Bell spending a good amount of time in the cage and his nickname. On one hand, it’s probably a positive sing that Bell is so aware of what he’s doing mechanically at any give moment. On the other hand…
“I think if you look at the elite hitters over time, you don’t see drastic changes more often than not,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I do believe there comes a point in time where you need to know yourself and lock into your strengths and your core convictions that you need to have.”
For Hurdle and Bell, the biggest issue has been getting his front foot down quicker and most of the changes have been made with that in mind.
“We have tried to remind him the importance of getting down on time,” Hurdle said. “That’s been ongoing. We’ve seen it happen and we’ve seen it not happen because he’s trying something else. He’d be the first one to tell you that.”
“The swing isn’t going to get off until the foot gets down,” said hitting coach Jeff Branson. “We started this in St. Louis because a lot of fastballs were beating him. They were on him, on him. How do we counteract that? It’s a matter of him getting grounded, so he can read the pitch and put the bat to the ball.”
In that regard, his latest approach is throwback to what he was doing a year ago. This is what Bell’s swing looked like when he first came up to the majors last July.
This is from late April, as Bell was trying a different method of gathering himself, going to more of a toe-tap than a step.
Now, he’s back to what he was doing before. In fact, he’s gone back to something that more closely resembles his natural swing, before he started his tinkering.
“I found my back against the wall three or four weeks ago,” Bell said. “The game is a lot simpler when I’m not fighting myself in the box. I’m not forcing myself into a position to hit. It’s more of a free swing.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard him say, ‘I’m trying to go back to what I was doing a couple years ago,’” Hurdle added. “We’re always trying to find something that worked for us and hold onto it with some consistency.”
Bell came up to the majors with a reputation of being a power hitter from the left side and an an average hitter from the right. But he’s developing more power from the right side as of late, as I’ve written about recently.
With everything changing with his left-handed swing, it was too much to do make the same type of adjustments the other way. So Bell just starting doing whatever he was doing left-handed, right-handed. The results have been promising.
“There’s not a lot of power hitters that have the same kind of mechanics from both sides of the plate,” Hurdle said. “I think he has the ability to be very dynamic and similar from both sides of the plate. We’ve seen it already play out.”
Gerrit Cole vs Matt Garza
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) May 6, 2017
David Freese said his right hamstring injury is progressing but still has no timetable for a return or even a plan for whether or not a rehab assignment will be necessary. … Francisco Cervelli (right foot discomfort) will catch for the third straight day. … Josh Harrison will hit lead-off for the second straight night.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Pirates announced that Jameson Taillon has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with groin discomfort. They have added RHP Josh Lindblom to the 40-man roster and promoted him to fill Taillon’s spot. Lindblom has a 2.50 ERA, with a 1.06 WHIP and a .209 BAA in 18 innings this season. His last full start was a six inning performance back on April 22nd, but he left his last start after one inning on April 29th after being hit on the foot with a liner. He has obviously recovered from that injury, though he hasn’t pitched since.
The Pirates announced that Trevor Williams will start on Monday and that Lindblom will be available immediately out of the bullpen. The Taillon move was made retroactive to May 4th, so he will be eligible to return on the 14th.