PITTSBURGH — Gregory Polanco may have jump-started his bat on Saturday, but his defense in the outfield this season continues to leave something to be desired.
Polanco started the season playing left field, but was moved back to right in late May. He’s even stayed in right while lesser defenders like John Jaso have played left, suggesting Polanco’s future is permanently set as a right fielder.
But even in right field this season, things haven’t gone so well. Polanco has negative-2 Defensive Runs Saved as an outfielder this season. All of that came in left field. He’s an even zero in right field, but that’s a fairly precipitous decline from where he was earlier in his career. Polanco saved 11 runs in right in 2015 and four last season.
Manager Clint Hurdle said the thought the constant parade of injuries since last July has changed the way Polanco attacks the ball in the field.
“I think the injuries have played into tentativeness out there,” Hurdle said. “He’s more confident in right field. There’s no doubt about that. That’s inarguable. Now it’s reps and just playing the game with the freedom he’s needs to play it with in his mind. He needs to just go play.”
It has to be hard for Polanco to make that balance internally. After all, he sprained his ankle crashing into the wall at PNC Park in May, strained his hamstring running down a fly ball in Arizona earlier that month and also had groin and shoulder injuries earlier this season.
“It’s hard to play to not get hurt,” Hurdle sad. “It’s like playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We’re trying to refresh and remind him to go and be six years old. It’s the backyard, man. Just go play ball. When he does that, he’s a very good outfielder.”
STEWART BACK, BUT TRIO REMAINS
Catcher Chris Stewart was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list Sunday morning. Stewart said he feels good and the fact that he was able to hit and catch during his down time meant that he didn’t need a minor-league rehab assignment.
“I’ve been catching and hitting,” he said. “It was never an issue with that. It was just the running that was a pain that I couldn’t really get through or push through. That’s good and I don’t really feel like I missed all that much work because I was able to catch and hit.”
Jacob Stallings was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, but the Pirates still have three catchers on the roster. Clint Hurdle said Saturday he “isn’t a fan” of that arrangement, but it’ll persist at least until the team gets to Milwaukee.
“I’m going to play it one day at a time,” Hurdle said. “I need to get Stewart involved. It won’t be a long period of time unless something drastic changes. We’re not built for that. It’s awful hard to send down (Elias) Diaz right now based on his performance.”
Juan Nicasio said that the fatigue that held him out on Saturday is “nothing bad,” but Hurdle is still unsure of his availability for Sunday and going forward.
“The fatigue, he felt it during the outing towards the third hitter (Friday night),” Hurdle said. “We’re going to revisit. We’re gave him the day off from throwing yesterday. (Pitching coach Ray Searage) is going to take him out there as he does with all the pitchers, have a flat-ground throwing session and see where he’s at. It happened during the outing. He felt a little something. We just wanted to calm it out so he can get back out there.”
Felipe Rivero threw 37 pitches over the last two days and is unavailable.
Daniel Hudson would presumably close if both Nicasio and Rivero are unavailable. That’s a pretty big turnaround for a guy that was pitching in the fifth inning not that long ago. But the numbers back up the fact that he’s had a pretty dramatic change in fortunes.
“The fastball command is more consistent and improved,” Hurdle said. “The finish of the fastball. The changeup plays better to the left-handers. His overall arsenal is sharper. It’s more consistent and a lot of it, we think, is predicated on his release time. You get it to 1.3 (seconds) and everything seems to have sharpened. Any longer than that, there’s some little disconnects and the command isn’t as good.”
Right after the Pirates re-arranged their bullpen, I figured out the WHIP figures for each reliever over a roughly three-week period. With the uncertainty Sunday, I figured it was a good time to revisit them.
No one has had a great week, put it’s pretty clear that regardless of Nicasio’s health, Hudson has been every bit as good of an option.
KELLER ON THE MEND
Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller will make a rehab start with Low-A Morgantown on Monday. Keller is returning from lower back tightness. This is his first rehab start. He had a 2.92 ERA in eight starts with High-A Bradenton this season. The game will be Morgantown’s home opener.