Josh Bell leads Pirates past Cubs
CHICAGO — Sixteen home runs before the All-Star break is a level no Pirates rookie had touched until Josh Bell came along and did it this year.
Whacking 35 extra-base hits before the break is so good, it's silly. Bell reached that mark Saturday, when he cranked a pair of doubles in the Pirates' 4-2 victory against the Chicago Cubs.
The best part? There's more in there.
"Offensively, he's still a work in progress," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's a .230 hitter. He's got much more than that, but he's not more than that right now. There is more from the right side that will play out."
A switch-hitter, Bell is batting .191 against left-handed pitchers and .250 against righties.
"The power is real, and it's playing out now," Hurdle said. "The ability to drive in runs has shown up. He's a dangerous bat right now. With more experience and more recognition of pitches and pitchers, how they're attacking him, he'll get better. I see him as a run producer, a middle-of-the-lineup hitter."
Before the game, which fell on the one-year anniversary of his big league debut, Bell didn't want to talk much about his home runs. But he did have a couple of choice words about his batting average.
"It stinks," Bell said.
Bell took some strides toward where he wants to be by collecting three hits off Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (8-7) and two relievers, which boosted his average seven points to .236.
"I always told myself I'm an 'average before power' guy," Bell said. "That hasn't been the case, at least not in this first half (of the season), but I have another half to salvage that. If not, if the power numbers are still there, I'll still be in a good spot."
The Pirates struck for a run off Arrieta in the fourth inning. The spark plug was Bell, who dumped a 2-2 changeup into right-center field and beat Jason Heyward's throw for a leadoff double.
David Freese was nicked by a pitch. Catcher Willson Contreras was charged with a passed ball when he was crossed by up a sinker that strayed outside the zone.
Bell scored from third base on Francisco Cervelli's ground out.
That one-run lead was erased by two quick swings in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Ian Happ hit a fly ball to left that just ... kept ... drifting ... until it cleared the wall. Two pitches later, Kyle Schwarber lined a solo homer to deep center.
That was the extent of the damage against right-hander Ivan Nova (9-6), who gave up only three hits in 62⁄3 innings. He kept the Cubs off balance by mixing in more changeups than usual.
"I had a good feel for it, and it was a big, big pitch for me," Nova said. "I was down in the zone. I was confident with it, and I got outs with it."
Bell began the sixth with a liner that split center fielder Happ and right fielder Heyward. The ball hopped into the thick ivy, but Bell was 60 feet from home before third-base umpire Gary Cederstrom convinced him it was a ground-rule double.
Gregory Polanco crushed a sinker to center to make it 3-2. It was Polanco's eighth homer and his second on this road trip.
"He has hit the ball better," Hurdle said. "It's been good to see. He's got an (eight-game) hitting streak going, and within that there's been better at-bats, better directional hitting. He's been moving the ball around the ballpark a little bit. So that's a good sign."
Two innings earlier, Polanco also got a 2-1 sinker but popped out to left. A quick adjustment led to his homer.
"I stayed short, kept it simple," Polanco said. "Short swing. Foot down early. I let my hands work."
The Pirates kept attacking Arrieta, who is 0-4 with a 7.29 ERA in his past six starts against them.
Cervelli singled. Jordy Mercer doubled to center. Coach Joey Cora aggressively waved Cervelli around third. He would have been out, but shortstop Javier Baez air-mailed the relay throw over Contreras' head.
The Cubs made it interesting in the eighth. With one out, Tommy LaStella blooped a double. After LaStella went to third on a groundout, Hurdle called on closer Felipe Rivero.
Rivero was careful with slugger Kris Bryant, a right-handed batter, and walked him on four pitches.
Anthony Rizzo, who swings lefty, hit a rocket, but shortstop Jordy Mercer snatched it and made the throw to first.
Rivero is 6 for 6 in save opportunities, four of which have required more than three outs.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.