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Pirates minor league notebook: Reigning IL hit leader makes a home in Indy

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — He wants to play in the major leagues, but Matt Hague isn't going to waste the chance he has with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.

The opportunity Hague is embracing extends beyond the field, as he now calls the city his home.

Hague remained in Indianapolis during the offseason, enduring a record-breaking winter that saw more than 50 inches of snow. Nonetheless, he would travel almost daily from his north-side apartment to the team's indoor workout facility at their downtown stadium.

“When last season came to an end, I was invited to run some kids baseball camps,” said Hague, who is entering his fourth year with the Indians. “I've been here so long and I love this town, so it just made sense for me to stay here.”

Hague has led the International League in hits in two of the past three seasons, being labeled as “The Hit Collector.” He's a two-time IL All-Star and two-time team MVP.

The production has been there for Hague, but not an extended stay in the majors. Hague said he focuses on what he can control and not on when a promotion might occur. But that wasn't always the case.

Hague started the 2012 season with the Pirates and batted .229 over 30 games during three stints. One stay lasted 10 days, while another one lasted a little more than a month.

“I think in 2012 when I was going up and down a lot, you kind of look at it like, ‘What do I have to do?' ” Hague said.

Still, Hague has no qualms with how the organization has treated him and said he believes they have a plan for every player at Triple-A.

“It's just about doing the things you know that work for you and the things you know you're good at as far as playing baseball,” Hague said. “The rest will kind of take care of itself.”

Hague played first base in 127 of his 140 games last season.

But former outfielder Andrew Lambo and prospect Chris McGuinness are expected to play a majority of games there this season.

Hague was the designated hitter in the team's season-opening 2-1 win at Columbus on Friday, scoring the winning run after leading off the 10th inning with a double.

He also will see time at third base, where he played 12 games last season, and first base, on occasion.

Pitching coach Tom Filer has been around Hague for five years, dating to the 2010 season in Double-A Altoona. Hague sets a tone in the clubhouse that manager Dean Treanor expects, Filer said.

“He puts his nose to the grindstone and just keeps going, keeps going, keeps going,” Filer said. “He shows up every day ready to play. I think he's been one of the leaders on our team. I know when something needs to be said to the team, Dean (Treanor) goes to him to get the feel for our team.”

Hague has played in more games (374), collected more hits (422) and knocked in the more runs (198) for the Indians than any other player in the past 20 years.

The line for Hague's autograph at a team event last season was twice as long as for anyone else. He's active in the community and one of the most requested media interviews. Hague is grateful for the life he has carved out during his time in Indianapolis, but he is far from satisfied.

“I do want to play in the major leagues and stay there,” Hague said. “So I know my work is not done.”

Time to regroup in familiar setting

Lambo was one of the players fans wanted to see promoted the most last season as he hit 18 home runs in 53 games with Indianapolis.

But he hit only .233 with one home run in 18 games with the Pirates. In the offseason, the organization moved Lambo to first base, but he hit just .095 over 21 at-bats in the spring.

Lambo expected he would play well enough to earn a roster spot with the Pirates but said his swing wasn't there.

“Maybe I was tying my life on some hits a little too much,” Lambo said. “And from there it snowballs. I didn't have a good spring, but it's not the end of the world. I believe in myself, and I know the Pirates believe in me. I see myself as being their first baseman.”

New role, better results?

Andy Oliver led the International League in strikeouts (138) and opponents' batting average (.220) last season. But he also led all of minor league baseball with 112 walks.

The organization hopes a move to the bullpen will lead to better results as Oliver, 26, faces a critical season in his career.

“He seems a lot more comfortable and is getting used to that role,” Filer said. “I think he has to take a step up. I think he's getting to that age where you have to produce.”

Oliver has the quality of pitches needed to succeed, but until he reduces the walks, he never will reach his potential.

“He has very good stuff,” Filer said. “It's not the stuff.”

Brian Peloza is a freelance writer.

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