BRADENTON, Fla. — Prior to his post game press gathering Friday, Clint Hurdle cracked a joke to his buddy Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, the NBC hockey broadcaster who was seated behind home plate for a 12-9 Pirates win over the Braves at LECOM Park.
“Good day to hit,” Hurdle boomed. “You might’ve been able to hit one!”
No doubt the balmy conditions — complete with a touch of breeze blowing from left to right — aided at least a couple of the 11 home runs cracked in the game. With a reasonable facsimile of an everyday lineup at their disposal, the Pirates blasted five of those dingers, including impressive shots by Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco, and Elias Díaz.
Bell’s was probably most notable, as he sprayed a solo drive out to right-center against Braves lefty Michael Mader in the fourth. Clint Hurdle called it a “missile,” one that pleased Bell because he had just one opposite-field homer last season.
Before the at-bat, Bell remarked to bench coach Tom Prince about his pull-happy power and how he hoped to change that trend.
“I joked with (Prince) afterward, ‘Oh, I have no backside pop, huh?’ ” Bell said with a grin. “So that was cool to see. … Just staying through the ball. Not pulling off. Letting my hands travel through and not pulling off early. The ball flight is really true that way and I’d like to believe there’s more to come.”
Bell’s homer was his second of the spring. Polanco and Díaz have three apiece now, tying them with José Osuna and Sean Rodríguez. Throw in a three-run triple by Corey Dickerson after an extended battle with Braves starter Aaron Blair and there was a lot to like for Hurdle and company.
All told, Pirates starters piled up 10 hits and two walks in 32 combined plate appearances, while only Díaz could be classified as a projected bench player.
“I know Josh (Harrison) looked at me in the first inning and said, ‘Look around, dude, this is a good lineup,’ ” Bell said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ You saw in the first few innings we were rolling. It was fun.”
• Sounds like getting each starter four plate appearances is part of a concerted effort by the Pirates to get representative lineups on the field earlier in March than usual. Counting Sunday’s split-squad doubleheader, there are 12 Grapefruit League games remaining before the opener at Detroit.
“Depends on who’s pitching,” Hurdle said. “The normalcy (is something) we’re trying to get to a little sooner than in the past.”
• Prized Braves infield prospect Ozzie Albies lifted two home runs, including one to left against Jameson Taillon in the fourth. That was the only real blemish for the Pirates’ dominant starter, but the same couldn’t be said for non-roster invitees Josh Smoker and Tyler Eppler, who combined to give up five homers.
Smoker gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings, lowlighted by Albies’ second round-tripper. Eppler yielded three runs, all on homers, in two innings.
“Some of the balls were helped in the wind,” Hurdle allowed, “but some of those balls were just hit really hard.”
• Corey Dickerson’s positive value to the Pirates will likely be restricted to the plate, but Hurdle spoke graciously of his new left fielder’s potential to fit in the field. Dickerson saved at least one run in the fourth when he dived to snare a shallow pop by Danny Santana, earning a round of applause from Taillon and the dugout.
“He wants to play defense,” Hurdle said, noting Dickerson had been “labeled” as a designated hitter by his former club, the Rays. Hurdle added that the Pirates have some “measurable tools” to help Dickerson improve his first step and route efficiency.
• Bell’s homer was leavened by the whimsical image of him trying to scoop up his fallen batting helmet after he rounded first base in a dead sprint.
“I was thinking three out of the box,” Bell said, shrugging. “I was hitting first and I hit it a little too hard.”