PITTSBURGH – Talk about a tough break.
Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison will miss six weeks with a broken fifth metacarpal in his left hand, the team announced on Monday. It’s the same bone that Harrison broke in September of 2017, costing him the remainder of that season.
In fact, the break is in the exact same spot.
“As we walked through with Josh and (Allegheny Health Network hand specialist) Dr. Birdsong, it’s very rare, it’s very uncommon,” Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said. “Unfortunately, it did break that bone again. The bone was healed. The bone was calcified and everything that you wanted to see. It got through a body of work in Spring Training.”
Harrison was hit 23 times during the 2017 season, second in the majors. The pitch that hit him out of the hand of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Urena on Sunday was the first to do so in the 2018 regular season, but he was hit twice in the spring, too. It’s clear that Harrison, who wears both an elongated ear flap and extended elbow and forearm pads, remains a target for baseballs.
Manager Clint Hurdle said the team didn’t want make any changes to the way that Harrison stands in the batter’s box after his welt-filled 2017.
“He hits how he hits,” Hurdle said. “An alignment with your stance or different positioning in the box, that’s something down the road to even consider.”
In the meantime, both Hurdle and Tomczyk said the Pirates will take care to find ways for Harrison to wear even more protection over his hand, so that if he does get hit there again, the bone will be better able to withstand the impact. Tomczyk said that the injury will primarily affect Harrison’s ability to grip the bat. and that he will be able to return to the lineup in approximately six weeks.
Until Harrison returns, the Pirates have three players in Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Sean Rodriguez that will hold down the position in some combination. Frazier will get the first crack in the starting lineup on Monday, and will also take over Harrison’s leadoff spot in the batting order.
“We’ve got men to man second base,” Hurdle said. “We’ve got Rodriguez. We’ve got Frazier. We have Max Moroff. When Frazier’s in the lineup, he’ll be our leadoff hitter.”
With Frazier, from a hitting standpoint, the Pirates shouldn’t experience much of a drop-off. Through 14 games, Harrison had a .679 OPS. Frazier’s is .693.
“Frazier’s shown the ability to stimulate a lineup and be a catalyst at the top,” Hurdle said.
Defensively, it’s more of an open question as to whether Frazier can play good enough defense to be an MLB starter. He has zero Defensive Runs Saved in 418.2 innings at second.
“I think he’s a dependable player,” Hurdle said. “We’ve had opportunities to move Max in at the back of games. … Rodriguez can start against some left-handed pitching. We’re comfortable and confident, I’d say confident more than comfortable, with the guys we have to step in.”
Ever since Frazier was called up in the middle of the 2016 season, he’s bounced around between second base, third base and three outfield spots, but he’s typically seen regular playing time, regardless of where he’s been. Through 15 Pirates games in 2018, he’s played just 25.1 innings of defense anywhere, with 13 of those coming at second. In addition to not playing much during the games, the Pirates haven’t had many opportunities to take infield or batting practice due to the weather, so Frazier hasn’t gotten much work then, either.
“It’s been a different start to the season, for sure,” Frazier said. “Coming off last year, playing every day, I got passed around this spring and then going to having a snow or a rainout, whatever it may be, I haven’t been getting as many reps as I’d like to in pregame stuff. I’ve always used that in the past to stay ready. The opportunity is here now, though, so I’ll just try to hop in, react and play the game hard.”
As Hurdle mentioned, the Pirates have options beyond Frazier, but if he can play good enough defense to stick, he should be able to hit well enough to maintain his spot in the lineup and keep that group’s hot start rolling.
“Hopefully, I can take the bull by the horns and run with it,” Frazier said. “That’s my plan, to try to make the most of my opportunity.