Pirates' Hague tries to power up to earn spot
BRADENTON, Fla. — In order to get a shot at playing in the big leagues, Matt Hague is learning how to take a shot at the plate.
Hague's .302 batting average through four years in the minors caught the attention of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who refers to him as a "hit collector." Hague can spray balls to all parts of the field and has been productive driving in runs.
However, Hague's power numbers need to be higher if he wants to play a corner infield spot in the majors.
"It's about picking your spots, knowing when it's time to drive the ball," Hague said. "I'm not going to try to hit every pitch out of the park, but you can't be afraid to let it go sometimes."
In 2010, when he was promoted to Double-A Altoona, hitting coach Ryan Long began working with Hague to refine his mental approach.
Long saw that Hague hesitated to try to do more with good pitches, almost as if he was settling for a single instead of gunning for more.
"I call it taking a shot," Long said. "On a 2-0 count with a fastball middle in, you can take a shot. I don't necessarily mean trying to hit one out of the park, but get the head of the bat out there and try to do something with it."
Hague hit a combined 47 doubles and 20 homers in 2008-09 at Single-A State College, Hickory and Lynchburg. He hit 30 doubles and 15 homers at Altoona, then hit 37 doubles and 12 homers last year at Triple-A Indianapolis.
"You see how the production has improved over the last two years," Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie said. "He's learning how to pick his spots. He'll work the count so it's beneficial to him, sit on something he's waiting for and drive it."
Hague also has been trying to smooth out a small hitch in his mechanics by lowering his hands. For years, he's wiggled his hands slightly before starting his swing.
"I don't feel myself doing it," Hague said. "I don't know why I do it or when it started."
A ninth-round draft pick in 2008, the 26-year-old Hague isn't ready yet for a starting job in the majors. This spring, he's trying to win a bench job as a corner infielder. Although he's played mostly at first base the past two years, Hague got more work at third base this past offseason in winter ball.
"There's a lot more footwork involved (at third), so I have to get used to that," Hague said. "I have to make a longer throw, so a lot of it is about setting my feet and getting my arm in the right position."
Casey McGehee, who will platoon at first base with Garrett Jones, is a natural third baseman. But if Pedro Alvarez falters and McGehee takes over at third, Hague would be a valuable backup for Jones.
"It gives him another opportunity to make the club," general manager Neal Huntington said. "And it gives Clint more options."
Hague said he's most comfortable at first base, but is willing to give it a go at third.
"It doesn't matter to me if I'm at first or third, as long as I'm still getting hits," Hague said. "I can always get better on defense."
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Photos from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.
By the numbers
Matt Hague's stats in the minors:
2008 (State College, A): 7 games, 3 2B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .333 average, .444 slugging percentage
2008 (Hickory, A): 57, 14, 6, 29, .321, .470
2009 (Lynchburg, A): 122, 30, 8, 50, .293, .412
2010 (Altoona, AA): 135, 30, 15, 86, .295, .442
2011 (Indianapolis, AAA): 141, 37, 12, 75, .309, .457
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