MILLER PARK – A three-headed platoon monster at first base is a difficult animal to feed.
It’s an unusual roster situation to manage, to have three players limited on the defensive spectrum soak up so much flexibility, and, moreover, two seemingly redundant left-handed hitting options against right-handed pitching.
But Clint Hurdle is doing his best to manage the situation, filling out his 100th and 101st different lineup cards of the season Friday and Saturday in Milwaukee to help the Pirates to a critical series win.
Hurdle catches some flack in how he manages the bullpen – though he’s limited with few dependable arms – and he’s criticized for occasional lineups that include two many replacement-level players butI think the Pirates’ manager deserves some credit for how he’s managed the lineup this weekend.
Instead of going with a cookie-cutter platoon on Friday against Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo, Hurdle recognized that Gallardo’s best pitch is a changeup and that he has reverse platoon splits. So he surprised some by placing Gaby Sanchez in the lineup. While the results weren’t great, the process was.
On Saturday, there was not a clear choice to start at first against the hard-throwing Wily Peralta. Ike Davis had one hit in six at bats against Peralta, Pedro Alvarez entered 2-for-9 vs. Peralta. But what Hurdle did know about his players was that Alvarez has been an above average fastball hitter for his career and Peralta is very much a fastball-dependent pitcher. The result?
Hurdle chose wisely Saturday.
Alvarez delivered two home runs.
You have to like Hurdle’s process here. Hurdle said if we pay attention we can probably figure out a pattern at first and I suspect Alvarez will face fastball-dependent righties, Davis will play against the softer stuff and Sanchez will take the majority – but not all – reps against lefties.
Hurdle has been pretty creative with lineups this season and has been given a number of challenges. If you’re going to bash him for too much Ernesto Frieri usage, praise him for this weekend.
“I would follow Tony LaRussa’s lineups throughout a 162-game season (as a younger manager),” Hurdle said. “We are trying to with our ball club – we have a number of different positions where we are trying to maximize…. I think the most impressive thing with all that shuffling is no one has missed an at bat our batted out of turn. So they are paying attention.”
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS:
9. Just a reminder that most rookies aren’t Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig as Gregory Polanco was send down to Triple-A on Monday, though he is expected to be recalled after the Triple-A season.
Polanco is playing like he’s tired as he’s struggled to catch up to fastballs. As David Golebiewski noted, Polanco has the fifth lowest production among 22 qualifying rookies this season. The Pirates have to hope he’s tired and this is not a bat speed issue, or a long levels creating a long swing issue.
8. So Alvarez is taking to first base after all (He’s using Neil Walker‘s glove while he breaks in his own first base mitt). Alvarez made his second career start at first base on Saturday and he hit two homers after going homer-less the previous 42 days. Clint Hurdle hopes Alvarez can go through one of those white-hot periods. That could do away with the three-headed first base platoon monster.
While Davis has been a slightly superior performing against RHP compared to Alvarez, Alvarez does offer one thing he does not: the ability to change a game with one swing. And perhaps in a high-OBP, modest-power lineup, Alvarez makes some sense from a lineup construction perspective.
8. It’s going to be an interesting offseason as Alvarez still considers himself a third baseman long-term and Davis has a much control going forward as Alvarez. On Sunday Neal Huntington said he would like for Alvarez to slide back to third base, which makes sense as it would give the club more roster flexibility … and plus-plus raw power is more valuable at third than first. It would also make Josh Harrison a great super-U, Ben Zonbristy type. That does not mean Harrison would be a sparingly-used bench player it means he would be nearly an every day player moving all around the field – it would help the club’s depth across the board.
7. I have no idea if Elias Diaz is a potential major league starting catcher, though Baseball America rated him as the best defensive catcher in the Eastern League. One scout told me he is a “erratic receiver … with a high-maintenance swing.” … As with most prospects, curb your enthusiasm.
I do know Tony Sanchez is not a major league first baseman. If Sanchez can’t stick at catcher – and 55 of 62 base stealers have stolen successfully against him this season – then the fourth overall pick is unfortunately not likely to hit enough to make it as a big league regular. The 2009 first round wasn’t great – outside of Strasburg and Trout – but that pick is a missed opportunity.
6. The Pirates were fortunate to win two out of three in Milwaukee as their three starters combined to allow 25 hits and nine walks – but just eight runs – in 18 innings.
“It was a lot like last year’s first half,” Locke said of his start. “So many games we had four-plus walks, two or three hits and no runs, one run (allowed).”
Locke better hope there’s not similar regression ahead.
4. Said one scout of watching Tyler Glasnow recently “95-98 … FB coming down from the clouds.”
Even if Jameson Taillon was healthy, Glasnow might have still surpassed him as the top pitching prospect in the organization. In High-A this season, Glasnow has struck out 140 in 113 innings and made strides with his command. I worry about his lithe frame, but then again somehow rail-thin Chris Sale seems like the only young pitcher who had avoided Tommy John surgery.
3. One silver lining from Charlie Morton’s hernia diagnosis? Maybe it explains why his stuff has ticked down over the last year, notably his fastball velocity. Electric stuff has not been so electric in 2014.
2. The second test Gerrit Cole passed in coming off the DL was more important than the first (pitching well Thursday). By recovering well from the start it means he will be able to continue pitching. He’ll start Tuesday against the Cardinals. As important as the Milwaukee series win was, the St. Louis series is just as critical.
1. Josh Harrison‘s a star? The Pirates win at Miller Park? Edinson Volquez leads a staff in wins? Can’t predict ball.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 178
Games played by Gregory Polanco, across all levels, since last October. Hurdle suspects he’s tired which is what is dragging down the batspeed.
HE SAID IT:
“Well, I’m definitely not 100 percent,” McCutchen said. “I think that’s obvious, but I’m good enough to hit a home run in the ninth against their closer.
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK
Go to Meat and Potatoes and get adventurous: try the bone marrow. It has the flavor and consistency of a beef-flavored butter spread. Sounds awful but it’s terrific.