Kevin Gorman: Pirates’ Gregory Polanco learns value of patience
Gregory Polanco knows he isn’t 100 percent healthy — and likely won’t be this season — and that has become the biggest challenge for the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder.
If only he could practice as much patience with himself as the Pirates have.
Polanco was playing his best baseball before an awkward slide last September injured his left knee and required surgery on his left (throwing) shoulder. Since returning to the Pirates on April 22 — far earlier than projected because of a rash of injuries to Pirates outfielders — Polanco is trying to regain his form and rediscover the confidence that led to a 23-homer, 81-RBI season in 2018.
“It’s really hard. In the back of your mind, there’s some uncertainty. You’re careful to do it,” said Polanco, who is slashing .254/.315/.455 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 35 games. “When we’re out there, we just care about helping the team and trying to produce. That’s what we do. We fight, no matter how we feel that day.”
Polanco took a positive step against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, when he recorded his first two stolen bases of the season. Polanco had 58 steals in his first three seasons, including 27 in 2015, and a dozen last season before his fateful slide Sept. 7 against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park ended his season.
“Mentally, obviously, the sliding (is challenging) because that’s how it happened,” Polanco said of his injuries. “I’m an aggressive baserunner. At first, sliding, you’d think about it. Now I don’t even think about it. I just go.”
Throwing is another matter. Polanco’s arm strength still isn’t anywhere near what it was before the injury.
“It’s just a fight I know I’ve got to fight,” Polanco said. “Coming here earlier, I knew it was going to be a fight. I knew. The doctor and trainer told me, ‘You won’t be 100 percent this year.’
“Throwing, I feel better, but I’m not 100 percent. The arm, one day it feels good, and one day it’s … ”
Polanco didn’t finish the sentence. That runners who wouldn’t dare test his arm on throws from right field are now taking advantage with extra bases has served as a source of frustration for Polanco.
“Throwing was hard for me to let it loose,” Polanco said. “Mentally, I was thinking too much about throwing. I’m trying to get it better.”
Polanco has found his arm strength is at its best early in innings, after he’s warmed up by throwing in the outfield. On the first batter of the inning, he is likely to let loose on his throws. By the fifth batter, however, Polanco isn’t as loose and is more cautious with his throws.
“I know, even if I’m not 100 percent, I’m still going to make a good throw because I have a good arm,” Polanco said. “I usually release it quick.”
The Pirates are bringing Polanco along gradually, and he was refreshed after being given three days off this week. Polanco responded with a three-hit performance — and two steals — Wednesday and a solo home run Thursday against the Braves before going striking out three times with a walk in Friday’s 10-4 loss at Milwaukee.
Polanco is realizing he needs to practice the same patience as the Pirates.
“That’s what I really need,” Polanco said. “Obviously, it’s getting better. Every month it’s getting better. I’m putting a lot of work in.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle reminded that fans aren’t factoring in that Polanco wasn’t supposed to return until June. Perhaps Polanco could use that reminder, as well.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .