Tough to find a home

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH — Adam Frazier leads the Pirates in batting average (.317), and Josh Bell has the team lead in home runs (seven).

Yet neither player is likely to play a full game because their defensive skills have yet to fully develop.

Frazier, who started as a shortstop, is finding his opportunity in left field. Bell is an outfielder who is slotted as the Pirates’ first baseman.

Frazier has just started in left since coming off the disabled list. Bell has been routinely lifted for a defensive replacement when the Pirates have a lead in the late innings.

Bell continues to work with coach Joey Cora, building on intensive instruction he got in spring training.

What is manager Clint Hurdle’s guide in gauging Bell’s defensive progress?

“My eyes,” Hurdle said before Tuesday’s game against Washington. “It’s not quantifiable. I have nothing to share as far as some certain recipe. It’s my eyes.

“I talk to Joey daily about improvement and advancement, work being done. You look forward to that day. However, when you have a guy with better skills, they need to be out there at the end of the game.

“When you bridge to the closer, when your leverage guys are in the game, it may be an old school thought, but I want my best defense on the field.”

Bell has only one error this season, but error totals rarely tell the whole story of a player’s defensive ability. Some plays that are scored as hits are ones that could have been outs if handled better.

The Pirates have reversed their offseason decision to realign the outfield. That issue became even more complicated when Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games after failing a steroid test.

Gregory Polanco was recently returned to right field because the Pirates suspected adjusting a new position was affecting his hitting.

That opened left field, and that’s where Frazier is likely to be found. He’s the choice over John Jaso and Jose Osuna, both of whom are first basemen.

“In our park, I think (Frazier) can give us a little more range than either Jaso or Osuna can in left,” Hurdle said. “He’s shown the ability to get on base and score runs.”

With the Pirates’ offense struggling, Hurdle is willing to take a chance on Frazier defensively in left field.

“It’s a good guy to have in our lineup,” he said. “He’s still working at it (defensively). He’s shown the ability to get good breaks and go get balls. He’s still working on it, though, the overall consistency. It’s all about reps, experience. just playing more out there. I believe the more he plays out there, the better he’ll get.”

Frazier batted first and started in left in Tuesday’s game.

Elsewhere:

n Polanco sat out Tuesday’s game because of discomfort in his left hamstring. He’s listed as day-to-day.

n The Pirates announced the signing of right-handed pitcher Hai-Cheng Gong as a non-drafted free agent. Gong, 18, pitched in the Chinese Development Academy and for Team China in this year’s World Baseball Classic. He made one scoreless appearance in the Classic. He will start his career with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

n Pitching prospect Mitch Keller experienced tightness in his back and was pulled from his start with Class A Bradenton after one inning. The news was reported in a Tweet from the Bradenton Marauders.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

COMMENTS