PITTSBURGH — Baseball is a non-contact sport, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle speaks often of how opponents punch back.
He means that as teams develop knowledge of a rookie player’s tendencies, they’ll soon find a way to answer.
Adam Frazier is living proof of that.
Frazier was hitting .369 on May 21, and teammate John Jaso predicted that Frazier might someday win a batting title because of his consistency.
Then the league punched back.
Frazier was carrying a .255 average at the start of play on Friday, which included a 0-for-20 stretch that he snapped in his first plate appearance.
Frazier finished the night 3-for-5, his first multi-hit game since June 21.
Is this now his turn to punch back?
“That’s the beauty of being up here for a full season,” Hurdle said. “It takes you a lot of places. He’s learning a lot of valuable lessons through the challenging times.”
It’s been a tough process, to the point that Frazier said he welcomed the four-day All-Star break. He said he spent his down time not even thinking about baseball.
When he got back, he went to work again. The main mission was rediscovering his swing, the one that led Jaso to speculate on a possible batting title for Frazier.
“It kind of got away from me,” Frazier said. “It took a while to get it back. Hopefully we’re on to something, and I can build on it.”
The adjustments never end, but Josh Bell had the same experience earlier this season. Teams started gathering data on him last year, and then watched him playing on a regular basis when this season started.
They caught on to Bell’s approach and moved to counter-act it.
“My overall approach last year was to try and drive a ball to the left-center field gap,” Bell said. “I guess that kind of put me in handcuffs. The first couple of months, I would see a lot of fastballs inside. I had to pretty much work my swing around learning how to hit a fastball in.
“The beginning of the season, I kind of felt like I was an easy out. You look at the scoreboard and see a .202 average and no homers and you’re breaking a couple of bats every series. That’s not fun baseball.
“But I feel like I’ve punched back and hit some homers on inside pitches. I’m really just playing that dancing game with the pitcher and catcher now.”
Gregory Polanco had an ugly night on the bases Friday, and Hurdle expects him to learn from his mistakes.
Polanco was slow out of the box, apparently believing he’d hit a home run. The ball hit off the top of the wall and stayed in play. Polanco settled for a double. He should have made it to third.
Later, he was picked off third when he tried to get back to the base in a casual manner. Catcher Yadier Molina zipped the ball past him and Polanco was tagged out.
Fans reacted accordingly to the two mindless plays.
“Sometimes when however many people in the ballpark boo you, that gets your attention,” Hurdle said. “It was a tough trip around the bases with Greg that time. Could he have made third? Probably a good chance third base was an option.”
It has become fashionable for some major league players to enhance home runs by breaking out of the box slowly. Apparently that shows they knew from contact that the ball was out.
When it’s not over the fence, a situation develops like the one Polanco experienced.
The pickoff was inexcusable. Polanco just wasn’t paying attention.
“We all know about Molina,” Hurdle said. “We’ve had the conversation ad nauseam about Molina. You can’t turn your back on Molina. It’s unfortunate. It should never happen to (Polanco) again in his career.”
Revising the lineup
Starling Marte returns from his 80-game steroids suspension on Tuesday, and Hurdle will have to decide where he fits in the batting order.
Hurdle had already said Marte will play left field, not center.
“I definitely will try to lock him into one spot in the lineup,” Hurdle said. “We’ll see how it works out. If he has a spark right away, maybe we can ride it. If he’s challenged, maybe we can back off a little. We’ll assess it day by day as we go.”
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