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Time on the bench gets Snider back into Pirates lineup

| Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
The Pirates' Gaby Sanchez (left) and Starling Marte celebrate after scoring off Josh Harrison's two-run double against the Brewers during the second inning Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Milwaukee.
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The Pirates' Travis Snider (left) fist-bumps teammate Josh Harrison after Harrison hit a two-run home run that scored Starling Marte during the eighth inning against the Brewers on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE — Travis Snider replaced rookie Gregory Polanco in right field and in the Pirates' starting lineup for a third straight game Friday at Miller Park.

What is easy to forget is Snider was once, like Polanco, considered an elite prospect. While with the Toronto Blue Jays, Snider ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the game by Baseball America entering the 2009 season — 10 spots ahead of NL MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton.

Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle of a younger Snider: “He was the prototypical player you look for. The on-base percentage, the slugging … walk-to-strikeouts. The numbers were phenomenal.”

After continued inconsistency, Snider was replaced by Polanco earlier this season as the right fielder. It was that benching that Hurdle believes has led to Snider's turnaround. Snider entered Friday's game on an 11-game hitting streak during which he has hit .439 with three home runs.

While it remains to be seen if Snider can consolidate these gains into consistent performance, Hurdle said he believes Snider has become a different player.

“The buy-in started with the pinch-hitting, when he stopped playing regularly,” Hurdle said. “(He said) ‘OK, I'm going to get these (scarce) at bats. I have to find a plan and an approach and a program that is going to give me a chance to be successful and put me in a good position to hit.' He's been able to (extrapolate) that.”

Snider has batted .283 with two homers as a pinch hitter this season.

Hurdle said Snider's improved professional approach preparing as a pinch hitter carried over to batting practice. Hurdle said if you watch video of Snider's batting practice last year compared to this year, the difference is night and day.

“One thing we talk about is, ‘Can you take an unemotional (batting practice)?” Hurdle said. “It sounds easy, but it's amazing how guys will get twisted during BP. They don't hit the ball where they want or how hard they want or how far they want to.”

Snider struggled to control his emotions during practice, and frustration would leak into games. Struggles in games would cycle back into practice.

“Going through the ups and downs I did early on my career — batting practice, cage sessions — things were too emotionally charged,” Snider said. “As I've evolved over the last couple of years, not only mechanics and the swing but the mindset I step into the cage with, it's more a of a learn first, take feedback but also separate work from your play. ... When you go out there and play, mechanics have to be out (of your mind).”

Snider notes that he's also healthy this year after having offseason surgery to correct a turf toe-like condition he played with throughout the majority of last season, which compromised the weight transfer in his swing. The health and the mindset have resulted in an improved approach.

“He's not trying to jump anything,” Hurdle said. “The fastballs are to the big part of the field, the breaking balls are the balls he's been pulling.

“Hitters will talk about when they are going well the ball is bigger, and it's because they are quiet, they are calm, they are confident. That's what we've seen from him for two weeks now. ... He has been torrid.”

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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