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Pirates notebook: Hurdle goes against grain when it comes to pitcher-hitter matchups

| Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 9:06 p.m.
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The Pirates' Daniel Hudson to the Cardinals' Randal Grichuk during the eighth inning April 19, 2017 in St Louis, Mo.

PHILADLEPHIA — With four left-handers in their bullpen, the Pirates would seem to be well-positioned to face tough opposing left-handed hitters late in games.

But it hasn't really worked out that way — at least, not in the way conventional wisdom would dictate.

“We've seen it get reversed this year as much as ever here in one season out of a bullpen,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Left on left, that hasn't worked. And right on right, that's hasn't worked. With guys in the past they've had success with, it has been flipped a little bit.”

Other than Felipe Rivero and his .089/.160 left/right opponents' average splits, two of the other three lefties in the Pirates bullpen have been better against right-handed hitters: Wade LeBlanc (.306/.220 left/right), Tony Watson (.327/.311). Antonio Bastardo has been poor against both (.364 /.393).

Two of the three right-handers have similar splits when facing left-handed or right-handed hitters: Juan Nicasio (.217/.213) and Daniel Hudson (.258/.250).

The nontraditional splits are part of the reason that Hurdle elected to use Hudson during the sixth inning of what ended up a 3-0 win Tuesday against the Phillies — even though two of the three men up were left-handed. He turned to Watson in the seventh. None of the four batters he faced hit lefty.

Hurdle said he rather would think outside the box rather than adhere to a strict “matchup” style usage of a lefty/righty reliever.

“It's a move that covers your backside, ‘I went left on left. I went right on right,' ” Hurdle said. “But at the end of the day, are you really being fair to the pitcher and his skillset doing that?”

Meadows continues rehab

Top prospect Austin Meadows remains in Bradenton, Fla., to continue his rehabilitation from a right hamstring strain, Pirates head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said. The outfielder — a top-10 prospect in baseball, per Baseball America — was placed on the Triple-A disabled list by Indianapolis on June 22.

Tomczyk said Meadows would continue his rehab in Florida for “not extended (amount of time) but more than two weeks.”

“Austin is a competitor. He smells the big leagues. He wants to be up here,” Tomczyk said. “So we are taking a different approach from a minor-league perspective as a performance team, looking into different ways to train him, looking into different ways to prevent this from happening in the near and distant future.”

This is the third hamstring injury over the past three-plus years for Meadows, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2013. It's the second strain to his right hamstring over the past 12 months.

Meadows, 22, is hitting .248 with four home runs in 254 at bats for Indianapolis this season. Projected as the likely replacement for Andrew McCutchen if/when he is traded, Meadows has a mediocre .702 OPS in 101 Triple-A games dating to last season.

Shutout ‘Stew'

Each of the past three times the Pirates have shut out an opponent, there has been one common link: the catcher was Chris Stewart.

Stewart was behind the plate for Tuesday's 3-0 win against the Phillies, last week's 4-0 win against Tampa Bay and a 1-0 victory May 21 at home against Philadelphia.

“You find a catcher who has (game-calling) as a strength in conjunction with a pitching staff, they are valuable,” Hurdle said. “That's why backup catchers, a lot of them don't hit a lot. What you give up in the bat, you get in run prevention.”

Stewart is hitting .182 with a .497 OPS this season. But the 3.89 ERA the Pirates have when he is catching is the best of any of the four catcher they've used this season.

Buc bits

Tomczyk said Francisco Cervelli is being treated like any other player, even as he comes back from the concussion disabled list for the second time in a month. But Tomczyk added Cervelli will be monitored differently “maybe from a more creative perspective of how we train him short-term and longterm from a neuro-cognitive perspective.” ... Indianapolis infielder Gift Ngoepe (left hamstring strain) is on a rehab assignment with Short-Season Class A West Virginia. ... Adam Frazier had played in all but two of the Pirates' 49 games heading into a scheduled day off Wednesday. Hitless in his past nine at-bats, Frazier has hit just .192 since his season average peaked above .370 following a home run May 25 in Atlanta.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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