Pirates A.M. — Shafted by the shift


By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

ColeCervelliBOSTON — Gerrit Cole cannot pitch and simultaneously play third base. If he could, the Red Sox’s five-run fifth inning in yesterday’s 5-3 win against the Pirates would have been at worst a more manageable one-run inning.

If you need the details of the inning, you can find them in my game story in today’s Trib. Let’s cut to the chase: the Pirates were shafted by their shifts. Against Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon — neither of whom has sprinter’s speed — the infield set up with SS Jordy Mercer hugging the second base bag and, when Leon was up, with 3B David Freese in shallow right field. The numbers say Sandoval and Leon (who are both switch-hitters) more often pull the ball to the right side when they bat lefty.

The ball Sandoval hit went precisely to the spot where Mercer would have been standing if he wasn’t shifted. And, of course, Leon would not have bunted to no-man’s land if Freese, the third baseman, had actually been at … um, third base.

There were two outs. Sandoval and Leon were the numbers eight and nine batters, respectively. They are slow. The Pirates already had very good odds of getting out of the inning with a 0-0 score or at worst a 1-0 deficit. Instead, they tried to jack up those odds even higher and rolled snake eyes.

There was palpable frustration in the clubhouse after the game. However, none of the players dared speak up about the shifts during interviews. It’s a tiny clubhouse, and several coaches and front office folks were within earshot — as well as the Pirates’ traveling analytics wonks, who set up their laptops on a table in the center of the room.

Cole: “I just got into a little trouble there. … They found some holes. … They just hit ‘em where we weren’t.”

Francisco Cervelli: “That’s they way baseball is now. That’s it.”

Mercer: “It sucks. That’s the bad part about the big shifts. In big situations, it doesn’t work out for us sometimes.”

CervelliDuck>>> Cervelli whacked a fly ball to the deepest part of Fenway Park, the center field notch. Jackie Bradley Jr. made a fantastic running catch to rob Cervelli of what would have been at least a double. Cervelli really tagged the ball … “But it’s Bradley,” he said. “He’s been doing those kind of plays for years now, so it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a pro. He’s one of the best.”

>>> UPDATE 1:03 P.M. – The roster for High-A Bradenton is out. It includes three first-round draft picks — Cole Tucker (2014), Ke’Bryan Hayes (2015) and Will Craig (2016) — along with pitcher Mitch Keller (second round, 2014) and outfielder Casey Hughston (third round, 2015). Baseball America ranks Keller the club’s No. 2 prospect (ahead of Tyler Glasnow). Hayes (sixth), Tucker (eighth) and Craig (ninth) also are among the top 10. You can find the complete Bradenton roster here.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Red Sox 5, Pirates 3: The mood in the postgame clubhouse said the players believe they out-shifted and out-smarted themselves in the fifth inning.

Columnist Kevin Gorman says the Pirates expect and desperately need more out of McCutchen and Cole

Notebook: In which Frazier leads off, Cutch dodges the question and Taillon preps for his turn on the big stage.

Want some Boston perspective? It’s always a treat to read a Hall of Famer like Dan Shaughnessy. (And, yes, he does accurately rate the Pirates as “mediocre.”)

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.