Game 88: A team of imperfect fits


Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

BellFirstBase2CHICAGO — The Pirates are a team of imperfect fits, a team that operates almost as much on hope as it does on cutting-edge analytics and physical training.

I got to thinking about that over coffee this morning as I read an email from Trib reader Jim Lersch: “One story not being told is the disappointment that is Josh Bell. At the plate, he is the second coming of Pedro Alvarez. In the field, he is the second coming of Jon Lester. I mean, he cannot even throw the ball. Watch the way he tosses the ball in the infield or back to the pitcher. The throw yesterday to first (base) on the bunt is a prime example of what I am concerned about. It seems like very few people want to present a balanced view of his performance. I hope that you will consider my thoughts.”

Bell is an imperfect fit at first base. He grew up as an outfielder and that’s where his game instincts were honed. He got his first game action at first base  during the Arizona Fall League in 2014. He played there for a year and a half in the minors before being called up to Pittsburgh. The big leagues are an unforgiving venue for a learn-as-you-go approach, which made Bell’s situation both interesting and dicey, as Travis Sawchik blogged last October.

For all the work Bell has put in, there are times when he still looks like an outfielder stationed just 90 feet from the plate. His instincts sometimes tell him to throw like an outfielder — overhand and hard. I remember watching him during spring training in 2016 doing a drill where he did nothing but make flip tosses to a pitcher covering first base for about 20 minutes straight.

As I wrote a few days ago, Bell has made progress but still has plenty of room to grow. Management is hoping he will someday click and become consistently league average (or maybe a slosh better) defensively at first base. There is training and positioning and research involved, but there is some hoping going on, too. In the meantime, Bell is an imperfect fit — just like Andrew McCutchen in center, Josh Harrison at second/third/left, David Freese at third every day, Tony Watson as a closer (before the plug was pulled on that scenario), the all righty rotation, and so on.

>>> UPDATE 2:57 PM CT – LHP Antonio Bastardo has been designated for assignment. Close the door on that Neil Walker trade and try to forget it. INF Phil Gosselin is on his way here from Triple-A Indy.

>>> Happy 30th birthday, Josh Harrison. Here’s hoping you can celebrate by not getting plunked again today.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Cubs 6, Pirates 1: The first three innings had everything but a streaker (cue the Ray Stevens song from the ’70s  …)

Notebook: In which Bell prepares to mark his one-year anniversary, Hurdle calls for a surge (which no buying at the trade deadline) and Osuna comes up throwing.

From the AJC, some good news about former Pirates super-utilityman Sean Rodriguez

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cubs, 7:15 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 4, John Jaso 7, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, Gregory Polanco 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (8-6, 3.24)

Cubs: Ben Zobrist 4, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ian Happ 8, Kyle Schwarber 7, Willson Contreras 2, Jason Heyward 9, Javier Bayez 6, RHP Jake Arrieta (8-6, 4.33)

Gamecast: The Pirates are at the outset of a 10-game stretch against NL Central foes. Coming out of the All-Star break next week, the Pirates will host the Cardinals and Brewers. … Nova is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two career starts vs. the Cubs. The righty has won seven of his past 11 decisions, but on Monday dropped a 4-0 decision vs. the Phillies in which he allowed four runs in 6.0 IP.

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cubs, 1:10 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root and TBS. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73) Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94)

>>> Monday-Thursday: All-Star break

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