Polanco's first PNC Park home run starts Pirates' homestand strong

Travis Sawchik
| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 10:15 p.m.

That swing.

That's what the fifth sellout crowd of the season buzzed about Thursday night as the Pirates began a lengthy homestand with a 5-2 victory over the New York Mets.

After falling behind in the count in the fifth inning vs. veteran Mets starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, Polanco turned on an 81 mph slider, the eighth pitch of the at bat. Polanco's quick sweeping swing sent the ball deep into the right-field seats, invoking memories of the swing of former Mets great Darryl Strawberry, to whom Polanco has been compared. It was a three-run shot, Polanco's first homer at PNC Park.

With the Mets adding a second run late in the game, the home run proved to be Polanco's second decisive shot since arriving with the Pirates. Like his first home run — and first game-winning home run, June 13 at Marlins Park — Polanco fought off several pitches before turning on an off-speed pitch.

“Being selectively aggressive in the strike zone (is) one thing he showed a lot of consistency with the last few years,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He has very good plate discipline for a young hitter. It's been showing up here. … He's been getting challenged with much more off-speed stuff in the last week.”

The swing is producing results as the Pirates (40-39) are 10-6 since Polanco's call-up.

“I was trying to make contact with the ball and stay within my approach,” Polanco said.

He also accounted for the first run of the game, scoring Jordy Mercer from third on a groundout to the right side in the third inning. Polanco had four RBIs Thursday and has 10 RBIs in his first 16 games. Polanco also stole his fourth base and slashed a single into left field in the seventh.

Where would the club be had Polanco arrived earlier? The Pirates are 15-9 in June. But perhaps an even more important question is where would the Pirates be without pitching depth?

The Pirates have been without their top two starting pitchers — Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano — much of the month. In their place, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley have offered important quality starts.

Worley seemingly was picked up as an afterthought this offseason by the Pirates. He was acquired in March from the Twins for cash considerations. Worley once had been a productive mid-rotation starter for the Phillies. He was the Twins' Opening Day starter in 2013. But Worley said he never was healthy to begin last season, his worst as a major leaguer.

Worley was healthy this spring and made mechanical adjustments while working with Pirates pitching guru Jim Benedict in extended spring training.

The results continue to be remarkable. Worley allowed one run over seven innings Thursday. He continues to show excellent control, commanding both sides of the plate with his cutter and two-seam fastball.

He walked two batters, giving him a total of seven walks in 66 combined major league and Triple-A innings.

He grazed the plate with a 92 mph fastball to get to Juan Lagares in the fourth. The only run he allowed, a solo home run to Lucas Duda, was a fastball on the outside of the plate Duda was just able to sneak inside the left-field foul pole in the fourth.

“I was going back to my sinker and hoping they would put it in play to somebody,” Worley said.

Worley's ERA stands at 1.74 after three starts with the Pirates.

A year ago, Liriano won NL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Worley's campaign for the same award is off to a strong start.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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