Lonnie Chisenhall embraces opportunity to play right away for Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. — Lonnie Chisenhall was attracted to the Pittsburgh Pirates in free agency because they could offer a chance to start the season as an everyday player in right field.
Chisenhall was willing to listen when the Pirates made the pitch that they needed to replace Gregory Polanco as he missed the start of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, as well as a fourth outfielder who can play both corner infield positions.
“The way they explained it to me was just that,” said Chisenhall, who signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract after eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians. “They said, ‘You’ve got an opportunity to come in and play right away for us, right off the get-go and keep it warm for Polanco.’
“Once he’s back in the mix, I’ll probably move around. There’s a lot of pinch hits to go around, a lot of double switches and things like that. They told me to be fluid, so I assume I’ll be taking some ground balls here and there just to be prepared. You don’t want to be surprised.”
The Pirates have their fingers crossed that Chisenhall, 30, can stay healthy this season after playing in only 111 games the past two years while dealing with an assortment of injuries ranging from a shoulder strain and a concussion to strained calves.
A former first-round draft pick of the Indians, Chisenhall has a career .268/.320/.427 slash line. Calf injuries caused him to miss 80 games in 2017 and play in only 29 last year, missing a stretch of 50 between April and June. He spent the offseason doing agility and soft-tissue work for injury prevention.
“We never identified what was causing the calf injuries,” Chisenhall said, “but I did make some positive changes with how I’m preparing before I get on the field.”
Now, Chisenhall is hoping to prove he’s fluid enough to play not only right field to start the season but left and center, as well as first and third base. He also has batted everywhere from first through ninth in the order and is comfortable as a pinch hitter. A left-handed bat, he has shown to be especially effective against right-handers by hitting 54 of his 64 career homers and 246 of his 296 RBIs against righties.
Chisenhall also preaches patience at the plate, where he is as content to draw walks as he is to drive in runs, if that’s what the Pirates desire.
“I’m not going to change my game,” Chisenhall said. “I’ll continue to swing. If it benefits me, I’m glad. But I’ll continue to put the ball in play with hard contact. I don’t like to strike out. I like to do whatever job is presented to me.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .