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Pirates 1B Bell finds positives in spring training debut

| Monday, March 6, 2017, 7:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell tosses his bat after drawing a walk in his third at-bat against the Yankees Monday, March 6, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell high-fives Jordy Mercer after Mercer hit a solo home run against the Yankees Monday, March 6, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell eyes an errant throw during a game against the Yankees Monday, March 6, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Josh Bell plays first base during the first inning against the Yankees Monday, March 6, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — For his first Grapefruit League at-bat, Josh Bell was hoping for a result that would be a good test of his surgically repaired left knee.

A double into the gap. A triple down the line. Anything that let him make a hard turn at first base and ended with a slide.

What Bell got instead was a dribbler that traveled maybe 30 feet and was fielded by New York Yankees pitcher Bryan Mitchell for an easy out.

“Not a really good first AB,” Bell admitted with a sheepish smile. “The second one (a strikeout) was better, in my opinion. I felt really grounded in my swing. In that third AB, I was able to draw a walk.”

In addition to making three plate appearances, Bell played five innings at first base during the Pirates' 13-1 victory. He was smooth, confident, and most importantly, pain-free.

“He looked good over there,” bench coach Tom Prince said. “He's been working hard over at Pirate City, doing a few things, and was able to get through five. It was a win-win there.”

Bell had surgery Feb. 1 to remove a loose body in his knee. As the Pirates played their first 10 spring training games, Bell worked out at Pirate City and was gradually cleared for all baseball activities.

“After the surgery itself, I felt really good,” he said. “It was just proving I felt good to the staff and checking all the boxes off when it comes to rehab and progressions. Now, I'm finally here, and I feel great.”

Bell is confident he'll be ready for opening day.

“For the most part, the other guys have gotten maybe 20 ABs. That's five games,” Bell said. “I feel like I can catch up and get the at-bats I need. Whenever I can get some extra ABs, I'll always be open to that. It's not too big of a stretch for me to catch up.”

As a rookie last season, Bell played in 45 games and batted .273 with three home runs and a .775 OPS. He finished with more walks (21) than strikeouts (19) — a promising sign.

“I feel like it definitely helped that I (was called up) in the second half of the year,” Bell said. “I was really solidified in my two-strike approach, not going out there trying to hunt the first pitch. I felt comfortable with two strikes.”

Of Bell's 152 plate appearances, 107 came out of the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He also batted sixth (19 plate appearances), eighth (five), first (five) and fifth (four).

A switch-hitter with a coveted combination of patience and power, Bell gives manager Clint Hurdle plenty of options when he's constructing the lineup.

“We'll see how that plays out,” Hurdle said. “It's just nice knowing he's got some flexibility. I don't think his approach is going change wherever you hit him. That's probably the best thing about him and his makeup.”

According to Hurdle, Bell's offensive potential is a bit higher when he bats left-handed.

“He's going to be like one of those switch-hitters you saw back in the day who was able to hit the ball from both sides and stay in one (lineup) spot,” Hurdle said. “Some guys, you have to hit them in one spot left-handed and in another spot right-handed. I don't think Josh is going to be that way.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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