Pirates lineup gets jolt from ex-Indians Lonnie Chisenhall, Erik Gonzalez
Twenty-two percent of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2019 projected opening day lineup was imported during the offseason down Interstate 76.
Barring injury or an unexpected spring roster move, Lonnie Chisenhall and Erik Gonzalez are expected to be the names manager Clint Hurdle writes in at right field and shortstop, respectively, when the Pirates begin the regular season at Cincinnati.
Each spent last season with the Cleveland Indians. Chisenhall signed with the Pirates as a free agent in November, and Gonzalez came over in a five-player trade earlier that month.
“Me and Chisenhall had a good relationship on the Indians,” Gonzalez said at PiratesFest. “I’ve known him (for) years, and I‘ve talked to him everywhere about the game and I think he’s going to be like a go-to man for me right here because I know him, and I’m so glad he’s here with me now, too.”
Chisenhall and Gonzalez are at different stages in their careers, and each inherits a likely starting gig in Pittsburgh under a different circumstance.
For the 30-year-old Chisenhall, his full-time spot in front of the Clemente Wall is expected to be temporary. The hole there figures to last about a month or two until Gregory Polanco can return from September surgery on his left shoulder.
Signing with the Pirates gives Chisenhall a chance to play every day and re-establish himself as a major league regular after injuries limited him to 111 games the past two seasons. The majority of the missed games were because of his calves.
“The worst part is there’s still no definitive (reason) why (the calf injuries) happened,” Chisenhall said. “But right now, since it healed completely in August, I feel great. I haven’t had an offseason like this since probably three years ago, before the first injury in ’17. So I feel good.”
Chisenhall had quality production when he was able to play over the past three seasons: .291 average, .815 OPS and 21 home runs in 705 at-bats. If he can match that this season, Chisenhall not only would make the early absence of Polanco palatable, it also would give the Pirates a steady left-handed bat that can fill in at the corner infield and outfield positions.
Going into a season under a one-year contract (worth $2.75 million), Chisenhall has a financial incentive to revitalize his career.
“There has been not even a sign of how I felt in the (recent) past,” he said. “Last offseason was a struggle even preparing for last season. … I feel good about where I am now, and I am pretty sure (the calf-injury issues) are in the rearview mirror.”
Gonzalez comes to Pittsburgh with a full season’s worth of MLB game experience (162) but with starts in just 57 of those games. He and the Pirates maintain the lack of extensive playing time had more to do with the star-caliber players in front of him in Cleveland than Gonzalez’s abilities.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is one of the game’s best, and he tied with Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez for the eighth-best Wins Above Replacement (7.9) in the majors last season. At second base is a two-time All-Star in Jason Kipnis.
“It will be great to see him maybe be on little bigger stage (because) it’s been tough to be behind those guys,” Chisenhall said. “He’s a great player, a very hard worker.”
Gonzalez described playing with Lindor and Gonzalez as “a joy,” but he’s been all the more joyous since the trade.
“I am thankful for the Indians because they gave me an opportunity to sign and gave me an opportunity in the big leagues,” Gonzalez said. “But I need to play baseball. That’s why I am in the big leagues because I want to play baseball.”
Like longtime teammate Chisenhall, he’s in line to get that chance on a daily basis for the Pirates.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .