PITTSBURGH — The Pirates had a good run the last week of the first half of the 2017 season. They won five of their last six games and won consecutive series in Philadelphia and Chicago, which had some players feeling like the break actually came at a bad time.
Gregory Polanco was not one of those players. The Pirates starting right fielder had a rough first half on many fronts. He played through shoulder, groin, hamstring, and ankle injuries that hobbled him for the first two months of the season. Then, his swing betrayed him in June, when he hit .183 in 93 at-bats. He admitted Friday that the injuries bothered him for far longer than the amount of time they kept him off the field.
Polanco felt he had started to turn the corner in July, with a .406/.441/.656 line in nine games. But even still, the break was a perfect chance to heal his body, clear his mind and get set for a strong second-half start.
“I feel better,” he said. “Even the last two weeks, I felt a lot better. I feel ready to go and I feel ready to start the second half of the season. I feel really good, hopefully I can stay like that. I’ve been working hard every day to do my best.”
Polanco said it’s important for him to get off to a good start in the second half and he thinks that finally being totally healthy and rested, along with the progress he made earlier this month, will allow him to do that.
“The second half is way shorter than the first half,” he said. “It goes quick. Right away, you’ve got to keep it hot.”
A hot start for Polanco could be a big boost for the Pirates, who will start the second half with an important homestand against the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
“This is a big two series,” Polanco said. “We’re ready for it. We’re going to try win these two series and head out west. We could come back from the west in second place. That’s what we’re trying for.”
OSUNA AT THIRD
Jose Osuna took some ground balls at third base before the game. It’s not the first time he’s done so, but it’s the first time he has since the spring. He took ground balls from infield coach Joey Cora and threw to Max Moroff at second and Josh Bell at first.
“I felt really good,” Osuna said. “I was working at third in spring training. It’s similar to first. I have to get used to the small glove. I have to keep working over there.
Manger Clint Hurdle said there wasn’t a specific reason for getting Osuna some work at that spot for right now, but rather the start of what could be a long-term plan to see if third base can be an option for him in the future.
“You never know what the season could provide,” Hurdle said. “Injuries. It’s a long-term vision.”
Left out of Hurdle’s list of possibilities is a trade. If either David Freese or Josh Harrison is moved at the trade deadline, Osuna could quickly climb the list of potential third basemen.
“If they need me at third, I have to be ready at third,” he said. “I can play left, right, first. Third is a chance to play a little bit more.”
The Pirates changed their starting rotation order for the second half, flipping Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl, after Kuhl made a spot start for Taillon in the last game of the first half. Taillon was suffering from what he believes was food poisoning from some takeout he ordered in Chicago.
“That’s what we’re thinking,” he said. “It was a long night of doing shuttles between my bed and the toilet.”
After Gerrit Cole starts Friday, Taillon will follow Saturday, then Trevor Williams, Kuhl, and Ivan Nova. Manager Clint Hurdle said the team wanted to give Nova the maximum amount of rest possible. Nova has already pitched 120.2 innings this year after pitching 162 last year. He’s on pace to throw over 216 innings this season and his career high is just 170.1 back in 2012.
Cole🚂 (4.43) vs. Mike Leake (3.12)
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) July 14, 2017
Cole has had four quality starts in his last five starts with a 3.45 ERA in that span. … Freese will play his 800th career game at third base. Freese is eighth amongst active players in games played at third. He spent the first 427 of them with the Cardinals.