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Pirates' Josh Bell fondly recounts MLB debut against Cubs

| Friday, July 7, 2017, 1:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Josh Bell hits a grand slam during the fifth inning against the Cubs Saturday, July 9, 2016, at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Josh Bell watches his RBI single off Cubs relief pitcher Pedro Strop during the seventh inning Friday, July 7, 2017, in Chicago.

CHICAGO — The first pitch Josh Bell saw in the majors was a big ol' curveball from Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta. Bell whacked it for an RBI single.

On Friday, 364 days since he made his Pirates debut, Bell smiled as he thought about that hit and all that has happened since.

“My mom texted me about it, ‘A year ago, you were in Triple-A,' ” Bell said. “It's been a fun run, a good first year.”

Coincidentally, the Pirates will face the Cubs again on Bell's anniversary. Chicago's starting pitcher? Arrieta, of course.

“We'll see how it plays out,” Bell said. “It was a cool way to start and, hopefully, I'll have continued success against those guys.”

In Bell's second at-bat, he mashed a pinch-hit grand slam off Adam Warren. He became the first Pirate whose first big league home run was a slam since Enrique Romo in 1980.

“I gave (the ball) to my Pops,” Bell said. “It's on the mantle, with a bunch of other stuff.”

That gives Bell a leg up on Andrew McCutchen, who never has hit a grand slam in 5,532 plate appearances in the majors.

“He told me that, and I was like, ‘What? That's pretty nuts,' ” Bell said.

McCutchen has confessed that hitting a slam is No. 1 on his baseball bucket list. Bell craves the accomplishments that McCutchen already has checked off.

“It was cool to hit (a slam), but I still haven't hit for a cycle,” Bell said. “I haven't had a multi-homer game. I haven't been an MVP or been on the cover of ‘MLB: The Show.' I've got a lot more things on my list than he does, for sure.”

Roster move

Reliever A.J. Schugel was recalled, and catcher Elias Diaz was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The moves gave the Pirates an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench.

With Francisco Cervelli recovered from his latest concussion, Diaz's playing time with the Pirates dropped to zero.

“Elias needs to catch,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He needs to get a couple more games so he's ready in case something happens to (Cervelli or Chris Stewart). He stays sharp, he stays in play.”

Infielder Gift Ngoepe was activated off the seven-day disabled list at Indianapolis.

Left-hander Jared Lakind, a 23rd-round pick in 2010, was released. Lakind went 1-1 with a 6.81 ERA in 22 relief outings at Double-A Altoona. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training this year.

Feeling a surge

The Pirates pretty much have played .500 ball over the past month and are 26-23 since May 13. They're going to need more than that to have a chance to win the NL Central.

Hurdle believes the club is capable of putting together a big run — and seemed to indicate the front office doesn't need to be a buyer at the trade deadline to make it happen.

“I've felt it since Day One,” Hurdle said. “We've got to keep showing up, keep playing and work to get better and more consistent. We still have the opportunity for internal improvements. (Gregory) Polanco had a big night (Thursday). Bell has been a run producer, and there is still more there. McCutchen getting hot, how timely has that been? We have the group of men, I really believe, to compete in this division.”

In 10 days, Starling Marte will come back from his 80-game suspension. Will Marte be the same player he was before his steroid use was detected?

“It has every opportunity to help us, but he's got to come back and play,” Hurdle said. “We'll see where that can take us.”

Osuna's big arm

Jose Osuna likely opened some eyes around the league when he made three outfield assists in Thursday's win against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I haven't played too much in the outfield, so I think they don't know too much about me out there,” Osuna said. “So, maybe that's reason they were running.”

Osuna paused and smiled.

“Now, I think it's going to be different,” he said.

Osuna always has had a strong arm. After working with outfielders coach Kimera Bartee, Osuna's accuracy has improved.

“If (other players) didn't know it before, they know it now,” Bartee said. “He's always been a guy who's had an arm. He always liked to show it off in the minor leagues. He constantly comes out early and works on it, so it was awesome to see it work out in a game.”

Hurdle was only a little sheepish when he talked about replacing Osuna with Adam Frazier in the eighth inning Thursday.

“Go figure,” Hurdle said with a chuckle. “I felt (Osuna's) arm could still impact, but we needed more range.”

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

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