PITTSBURGH — Josh Harrison isn’t sure why. Clint Hurdle doesn’t seem to know, either.
But for whatever reason, Harrison keeps getting hit by pitches. He was plunked twice more on Thursday in a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, bringing his season total to a league-high 18. Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs lags behind with 13. No other player has more worn more than half as many pitches as Harrison.
He swears up and down that he hasn’t changed his stance, isn’t standing any closer to the plate and is still trying to get out of the way. Yet, the bruises keep piling up.
“He just keeps getting hit,” Hurdle said. “I’ve got nothing for you. It’s 18 now. It’s crazy. … We’ll just keep padding him up.”
Harrison couldn’t shed any light on the situation, either.
“I wish I had answers as to why I was getting hit so much,” he said. “I just have a magnet or something right now.”
His best theory?
“(Starling) Marte. He left and gave it to me.”
Whatever the reason, all the bases on balls are having a significant effect on Harrison’s season, one that goes way beyond the extra time he’s spent in the trainer’s room.
Harrison’s on-base percentage is a career-high .377 after getting on base four times against the Rays Thursday. The bases on balls are a driving force in the uptick. Here’s Harrison’s on-base percentage over the last four seasons with and without his bases on balls.
Extra times on base has an effect beyond Harrison’s on base percentage. In the seventh inning, after he was hit by a Chris Archer changeup, Harrison stole second and scored on a Josh Bell single. That’s really making opposing pitchers pay for putting him on base.
“When I get hit, it makes him throw more pitches,” Harrison said. “It makes him pitch out of the stretch. It’s also going to cause the to feel like they have to throw fastballs. I feel like that happened tonight with Cutch’s third at-bat when he hit the double.”
In that fifth inning, Harrison singled and made some noise at first base. Archer threw a fastball that Andrew McCutchen fouled off and then threw over to first base twice. Archer had been leaning on his quality slider all night, but when he went back to the plate, it was a grooved fastball that McCutchen nearly sent over the Clemente Wall.
“If you hit me, I’m gonna go,” Harrison said. “If they know I’m gonna go, they have to throw fastballs to my guy behind me. Good luck.”
OLD NEW SPOT
Tony Watson pitched in an interesting role on Thursday. Jameson Taillon pitched into the seventh inning but ran into some trouble and a high pitch count. Jesus Sucre hit a leadoff double and Mallex Smith walked. Taillon got Steven Souza, Jr., to fly out, but at 103 pitches, his night was done.
On came Watson to put out the fire and did he ever. He struck out red-hot Rays left fielder Corey Dickerson and then got Evan Longoria to pop up to end the threat. The last time Watson regularly pitched the seventh inning was 2012 — a lifetime ago for a relief pitcher — but he said he felt as good as he’s felt this year coming in to that situation.
“I felt good,” Watson said. “I feel like my stuff is coming out great. I feel like I’m getting the ball where I need to get it to. Jamo threw a great game, there was some traffic on and I had to come in and get that lefty out and then get Longo out of there as soon as I could. It was a good outing, great outing and a good win.”
Watson hasn’t had much more success since getting pulled out of the closer’s role earlier this month. While there’s been some fluctuations in outcomes, his WHIP in June is 1.50 after it was 1.57 in May and 1.50 in April. That’s pretty consistent and it’s not exactly compelling.
But if Hurdle’s plan was to put Watson in lower leverage situations, Thursday’s usage was mostly a swing and miss. Watson’s two at-bats were by far the highest-leverage at-bats pitched by a Pirates’ reliever.
But while the leverage was still high, the role was different. Watson came in to specifically face a left-hander with two men on base. His job was to get a strikeout and a ground ball and he accomplished that. Maybe there’s something to a change in role, even if there’s no change in leverage.
“Absolutely,” Watson said. “Especially in a situation I’ve been in a lot before in my career. A guy is out there spinning a really good game for us and gives the bullpen a breather and you come in late and just have to get a couple big outs. I just came in, shook his hand and (catcher Chris Stewart) and I were on the same page right away.”
It’s one appearance, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward as the Pirates attempt to get Watson back on track.
Gregory Polanco and John Jaso both hit solo home runs. … McCutchen went 3 for 3 with an RBI and Harrison went 2 for 2. Both men reached base four times. … Josh Bell drove in a run for the second straight night. He’s driven in runs in six of his last eight games.