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Pirates notebook: Clint Hurdle looks for ways to shake Gregory Polanco's slump

| Saturday, June 17, 2017, 6:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco celebrates his two-run homer during the first inning against the Cubs Saturday, June 17, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco hits a two-run homer during the first inning against the Cubs Saturday, June 17, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game against the Cubs Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco smiles before batting against the Cubs on Heritage Night Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio hangs his head after giving up the lead during the ninth inning against the Cubs Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle removes reliever Juan Nicasio from the game during the ninth inning against the Cubs on Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.

Looking for a way to jump-start Gregory Polanco's bat, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he might employ the same techniques he used when Andrew McCutchen was slumping.

Polanco could soon find himself on the bench for a couple of games or he might be dropped in the batting order.

“All those things would be in play,” Hurdle said. “They're being talked about right now.”

Polanco said he has not been approached about any lineup-related changes.

“I'll do whatever they want me to do,” Polanco said. “Could it help? I don't know. But I'll do it if they want me to.”

On Friday, Polanco went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, which dropped his batting average to .238 with a .651 OPS. His two-run homer in the first inning Saturday against the Chicago Cubs was just his fourth of the season and upped his RBI total to merely 16.

“It's very frustrating,” Polanco said. “I know that, hitting in the middle of the lineup, I need to produce.”

Since coming off the DL on May 25, Polanco is hitting .212 with a .549 OPS. Four days after he was activated, Polanco crashed into the low fence in right field and sprained his ankle.

“He had one stretch of about 10 days when the barrel was showing up, when he came off the DL and fired a couple of homers, then he got hurt again,” Hurdle said.

According to Hurdle, there's a “little flaw” in Polanco's swing, which he is working to correct with extra work in the batting cage.

“It's just been off the barrel,” Hurdle said. “There's definitely some swing and miss, but balls are being hit without the exit velocity that we've seen from him over the years. We're working through it.”

Before he went on the DL, Polanco had an average exit velocity of 86.1 mph. Since then, balls are leaving his bat at 84.8 mph. Last season, he averaged 89.6 mph.

“The last couple of days, I've noticed that I've been feeling better with my swing,” Polanco said. “It's something that you can't always turn around in a day. Sooner or later, I'm going to be right. I've been through this before. I'm still here, so I know I can get out of it.”

Bullpen musings

The day after Juan Nicasio and Tony Watson imploded in the ninth inning of a 9-5 loss against the Chicago Cubs, Hurdle had no regrets about his bullpen usage.

“The fact that we didn't have success with it one time, we should kick it to the curb?” Hurdle asked rhetorically. “There's going to be reaction when you get scored upon late. Would it be the same reaction if they had scored upon Juan in the eighth? You commit to what you're going to commit to. You make the moves you believe in, and then the game plays out.”

Nicasio started the ninth because Hurdle did not want to risk overworking Felipe Rivero, who needed 20 pitches to get through a high-intensity eighth inning.

Hurdle pointed out there were two previous games when Nicasio worked the eighth and Rivero closed in the ninth.

“Right now, I don't know where we're going to be in the eighth inning,” Hurdle said. “I have an idea that, if we get to a certain point, there is a certain way we'll go. We'd still like to use Felipe in what we believe is the most meaningful part of the game. The hard part is, you don't know what's behind that.”

Most pitchers will say there's something different about pitching the ninth inning, so it takes a different temperament. Not every reliever can handle it.

“Roles are tough,” Hurdle said. “Everybody in life wants a routine and a role. But it seems like a bullpen guy should be able to get moved around wherever I want him to because I'm a fan and this is my favorite team. There's a lot of truth to that. I've heard it all year. I've heard it in past years.”

Hurdle is hamstrung to a degree because Watson and Daniel Hudson are trying to regroup after poor outings.

Watson was removed from the closer's role a week ago after he blew back-to-back save chances in Baltimore. Hudson was taken out of a setup role in May after he struggled and is being used in mostly low-leverage situations.

“Daniel is ahead of Tony in the bounceback,” Hurdle said.

Around the horn

Josh Harrison was not in the lineup Saturday. Harrison's career .087 average (2 for 23) against Cubs righty Jake Arrieta was only part of the reason. “We wanted to get him a rest,” Hurdle said. “He's been playing hard and playing a lot.” Harrison played in 65 of the first 67 games. … Reliever Pat Light was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners, who assigned him to their Triple-A affiliate. Light was designated for assignment June 10 to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Edgar Santana. … The July 4 game against the Philadelphia Phillies will be televised by ESPN.

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

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