Outfield down to Cutch

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH — Two-thirds of the Pirates’ starting outfield is off the active roster.

Gregory Polanco went on the disabled list before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Nationals because of discomfort in his left hamstring.

The 10-day assignment was back-dated to Monday, which makes Polanco eligible to return on May 25 if he’s ready. The Pirates end a series in Atlanta that day.

“Give him some time down,” manager Clint Hurdle said, noting that the injury is “on the load side of his body.”

“This way we may be able to leverage an opportunity to get him back on the 11th day and have him play at a much fuller strength than he has right now. He doesn’t even have enough to play right now.”

Starling Marte is out because of his steroid suspension, leaving only slumping Andrew McCutchen from the original starting outfield.

The Pirates recalled Danny Ortiz from Class AAA Indianapolis to fill the roster spot.

John Jaso started in right field on Wednesday. The position figures to be a daily decision among Jaso, Jose Osuna and Ortiz while Polanco is out.

After a slow start, Polanco had gone 5-for-14 in his four most recent games, raising his average from .238 to .252. That streak included his first home run of the season.

Hurdle said it wasn’t an option to sit out Polanco for a few more games.

“To think he could play in three days, how much of a player would you have?” Hurdle said. “How much of a benefit is that to our team? And him? How much more of a benefit would it be for us to play short for a few more days? There’s too many reasons to not unplug him and let him find his way back to full strength or as close as he can.”

Controversial move

Polanco was unavailable for Tuesday’s game, which left the Pirates’ bench one player short.

Hurdle lifted McCutchen from the game as part of a double switch. McCutchen made the last out of the inning, and Hurdle said he had only two potential pinch hitters left — Chris Stewart and Gift Ngoepe.

Stewart is the other catcher, and teams usually try to preserve their backup. Ngoepe has been challenged offensively, striking out in half of his major league at bats entering Wednesday’s game.

Hurdle kept Osuna in the game, knowing that his spot was guaranteed to come up again and knowing he’d need a pinch hitter because the pitcher would be in that slot. He wasn’t sure the lineup would turn around again and bring McCutchen’s spot to the plate.

As it turned out, McCutchen’s vacated spot did not come up again. Stewart was on deck to pinch hit when the game ended.

“That move needed to be made to give us the best chance to win the game, independent of how (McCutchen) is swinging the bat,” Hurdle said.

McCutchen was hitting .206 after making that out.

Hurdle said he recalls seeing Tony LaRussa making a similar move that took Albert Pujols out of a game.

“Doesn’t make it right, but I’ve seen it made,” Hurdle said. “I’ve seen it made with big players.”

Asked if he explained the move to McCutchen, Hurdle said that he did but that time was short because he had to go out and report the double switch to the plate umpire.

Asked if McCutchen had a reaction to that, Hurdle cut off the question, saying, “Stop.”

McCutchen admitted on Wednesday that he was upset, but that he was angry “with myself because I know I’m better than that.”

“Right now, I’m giving them an excuse to make those moves,” he told Trib Total Media. “If I’m doing my job, if I’m getting on base, I’m not giving them an excuse to make that move. You think that’s going to happen if I’m hitting .300? No, of course not. It all boils down to the fact that I’m hitting .200. That’s it.”

Taillon update

The Pirates got confirmation that pitcher James Taillon has testicular cancer. He will have further testing next week.

In the meantime, he has also been cleared for light baseball activities. That includes playing catch and doing limited conditioning work.

No timetable has been established for his treatments yet. Taillon had surgery on May 8.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com