Bucs giving Bell a shot

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH — Josh Bell batted in the cleanup spot for the first time on Thursday and made an immediate impact.

Bell homered in his first at bat during the Pirates’ 10-4 win over the Washington Nationals.

What’s different about batting fourth? Nothing.

“Don’t change anything,” Bell said. “Let the ball come to me and try to get a good swing on it.”

Bell is a work in progress in his first full major league season, but the progress has been steady. He’s been showing some of the talent that led the Pirates to invest $5 million in his signing bonus, the incentive that led him to change his plans to attend the University of Texas on a scholarship.

The Pirates were willing to pay first-round money to a second-round pick to acquire a power bat.

He currently leads the team with nine home runs. His cleanup spot assignment came Thursday because Gregory Polanco is on the disabled list and David Freese had the day off.

“I spoke with Josh before the game yesterday about it,” Hurdle said.

Much of the focus has been on Bell’s switch to first base after playing outfield through most of his minor league career. Hitters also face new challenges against major league pitching, and Bell has been through some ups and downs.

“I’m pleased with his development,” Hurdle said. “I don’t have a timetable. Just put him in the lineup. Let him play. Watch him. Watch him work early. Watch the reps that he’s taking. See where he can take it.

“There’s room for growth, and he’s learning things. He’s had some situations where he’s had offensive count pitches and he’s swung at really bad pitches. He’s learned, felt it, talked about it, worked through it.

“The speed of the game sometimes, on the defensive side, he’ll still comment about it. He’s learning and getting better. I’m enjoying the opportunity I have to watch him get better and watch his development.”

While some wonder why the team’s leading home run hitter doesn’t bat fourth regularly, Hurdle emphasized there’s still a learning curve, both offensively and defensively.

“I don’t want to say he’s got this wired,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s growing, I think he’s developing, I think he’s making strides in a positive fashion in a lot of different areas. Time will tell.”

Elsewhere:

n Danny Ortiz got his first major league hit in Thursday’s game.

Prior to this season, Ortiz’s entire eight-year professional career had been spent in the minor leagues.

Through translator Mike Gonzalez, Ortiz said that a hit, “was the biggest thing I wanted.”

n Bell would appear to be a lock to break the Pirates’ record for home runs by a rookie switch hitter.

Neil Walker hit 12 in 2010.

n Hurdle on why he gave Freese the day off:

“(A) 34-year old man, just off the disabled list, back from a hamstring injury. There’s probably some sound reasoning involved in it”

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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