Pirates notebook: Clint Hurdle says Josh Bell’s start rooted in thoughtful approach
During the 2017 season, Josh Bell set a National League record for most home runs by a switch-hitting rookie (26), led NL first-year players in hits (140) and tied for first in doubles (26).
Yet Clint Hurdle suggested Bell might have gained more valuable experience last year when he hit only 12 homers and drove in 62 runs, 28 fewer than the previous season.
“That’s one of the things we talked about,” the Pittsburgh Pirates manager said. “You need to find out as a player up here who you are, what kind of hitter you are.
“Sometimes, it takes 1,500 at-bats. Sometimes, it can take less. I think he’s starting to scratch the surface on that.”
Bell had 1,423 career plate appearances before Friday when he was leading the team in slugging percentage (.586), homers (three) and RBIs (13) while hitting .310.
Hurdle suggested it didn’t happen simply by Bell, who stands 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, putting his athleticism to work.
“There’s a lot of thought and narrative about who he was and what he was coming into this year,” Hurdle said. “He’s a very convicted man. I know he has a lot of desire to be great. The work ethic has always been there. He’s had to learn.
“A player arrives in the big leagues when they know who they are, they like who they are and they go be who they are. I think that’s what Josh has done.”
Cabrera leads the way
Bell was one of the Pirates’ four .300 hitters before Friday, a group led by right fielder Melky Cabrera, who was once the third-string right fielder but has played in every game while replacing Gregory Polanco and Lonnie Chisenhall and is hitting .367.
Hurdle said he knew of Cabrera’s hitting ability as far back as 2005 when Cabrera was a rookie with the New York Yankees. Now, he is getting to know the man.
“I didn’t know the guy at all,” he said. “So you make a few calls, talk to a few managers he’s played for. I was able to make a couple calls to former teammates of his who spoke on his behalf. They paint a pretty good picture, and you see if the picture paints up to what the guy shows up and gives you.
“I’ve seen a professional guy who is still very engaged in the game, teaching the game, playing the game, passionate about his teammates, passionate about winning.
Chisenhall’s Opening Day
Chisenhall, who has been on the injury list with a fractured finger all season, started a rehab assignment in Indianapolis on Friday night, playing left field and batting cleanup behind two Pirates teammates who are also on the mend: catcher Elias Diaz and Polanco.
Hurdle said Chisenhall has taken ground balls at third base and could be used at first, but he will play mostly left field with Polanco in right.
Way too early
Hurdle wasn’t dwelling on his team’s 10-6 record, which was tops in the National League before Friday.
“If you don’t play well, you say it’s early. If you play well, it’s still early,” he said. “It just means we’re playing pretty good baseball.”
The Pirates have been winning with impressive starting pitching and improving defense.
“When you can pitch it and you can catch it, you’re always in the game,” Hurdle said. “We weren’t catching it real well early, which provided some challenges. Now, we’ve caught it much better: five straight games with no errors, 48 innings.
“We’ve actually had some games where our (starting pitchers) haven’t had their best stuff, and they’ve come up with plan B’s and still been very productive and got us six innings and kept us in games.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .