Harrison pick makes sense in new format

PITTSBURGH – Yes, it’s unusual that Josh Harrison is on the National League All-Star team.

He has to check the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lineup card every day to see if his name is on it and, if so, which of four or five positions he might be playing.

Harrison has been a great story this season as the Pirates have rebounded from a bad start and re-entered the pennant race. The production and spark he’s given the team have been an important part of that resurgence.

His inclusion on the All-Star team is probably raising eyebrows outside Pittsburgh. Let’s face it, Pirates fans would feel the same way if a worthy Pittsburgh player were excluded for some other team’s super utility man.

But the All-Star game has changed. It’s not just a compilation of the best talent. There’s now some attention to how the game is played.

Tying home field advantage for the World Series to the outcome of the All-Star game was a push to make the game relevant again. The separate identities of the leagues has been diluted by interleague play and constant player movement.

For most players, the All-Star game is a social event more than a competition. The players have fun rather than hard feelings for the other team.

If the game is supposed to be competitive, then the roster has to evolve to reflect that. So they select set-up relievers who are comfortable in the seventh and eighth innings rather than trying to wedge a starting pitcher into an unfamiliar role.

And every once in a while, they take a versatile utility player like Harrison. National League manager Mike Matheny can use Harrison as a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. If he needs to insert him into a defensive position, he has a choice of second base, third base or either of the corner outfield positions.

Probably someone is protesting that Harrison has an All-Star roster spot that should have gone to another player. Fair enough.

But the way the game is played now, there’s a spot for an accomplished utility player. In that context, Harrison is an excellent choice.

Summer rerun

Due to some sort of production problem, Sunday’s column only included the first sentence of a two-sentence note.

It didn’t make a lot of sense as a stand-alone, as more than one reader pointed out. So let’s try again. Here is what should have appeared:

The Pirates had Photo Day recently, where fans get to come on the field and take pictures with the players.

It’s always good to see a smiling fan with his arm around someone he’s been ripping on social media for the last three months.

Tekulve update

As mentioned in this space on June 22, health issues have forced Kent Tekulve to leave his job on the Pirates pre- and post-game shows on Root Sports.

At home, the game analysts (Bob Walk, Steve Blass and John Wehner) fill in on a rotating basis. For road games, former major league player and manager Ken Macha is taking the spot.

That plan is expected to be in effect for the remainder of the season.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com