Josh Bell comes through again for Pirates in a pinch
Josh Bell made a quick and memorable impact as a pinch hitter upon joining the Pirates.
In the limited chances he gets in that role nowadays, he hasn't stopped coming through in key moments.
Bell's pinch-hit single drove in the go-ahead run for the Pirates in their 3-2 victory against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday afternoon.
Sean Rodriguez had a two-run double and the bullpen pitched 31⁄3 scoreless innings for the Pirates, who used a lineup filled with backups to complete a two-game sweep of the majors' worst team.
Bell, 25, improved his pinch-hitting average to .444 (12 for 27) with 10 RBIs in 32 plate appearances. He is 3 for 3 this season. His on-base percentage as a pinch hitter is .531, his OPS 1.383.
"It shows his maturity — as a hitter, as a player," said Rodriguez, a veteran who has thrived as a pinch hitter.
"Any moment he gets into the box, it doesn't matter if it's an everyday situation or like today when he's pinch hitting. That speaks to him, speaks volumes to him."
Bell singled as a pinch hitter in his first major-league plate appearance July 8, 2016. The following night, he was called upon with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam. For good measure, he walked as a pinch hitter in his third and fourth major-league games.
"He's going up there, and whatever he's thinking, I am hoping he just holds those thoughts," manager Clint Hurdle said. "First (MLB) at-bat, pinch-hit single off (reigning Cy Young winner Jake) Arietta. Second, a grand slam, and the times this year.
"He's ready to go, there's no doubt about it. His preparation has always been good."
Winners of seven of their past eight, the Pirates (25-17) held on to first place in the NL Central.
Starling Marte and Francisco Cervelli did not play after leaving Tuesday's game early because of injury. Also absent from the lineup were Colin Moran, Adam Frazier and Bell. Although the offense managed just four hits, that was enough to beat the White Sox (10-29) for the fourth time over a seven-game span.
Making his first start since a cut on his middle finger forced him out after three innings Saturday, Jameson Taillon allowed two runs but did not make it through the sixth inning.
Hurdle and the Pirates' training staff monitored Taillon from pregame warm-ups. Long reliever Steven Brault even accompanied Taillon to the bullpen before the game so he could loosen up if Taillon ran into any issues.
Eight White Sox reached against Taillon, who walked three. Solo homers by Leury Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez accounted Chicago's runs off Taillon.
It was the second time this season Taillon allowed two home runs and walked three batters, but the White Sox had just two other hits. Aside from the home runs, Taillon was satisfied with his outing.
"Blue-collar effort," Hurdle called it.
After an infield single loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, Hurdle removed Taillon in favor of Edgar Santana (1-0), who induced an inning-ending groundout and worked a scoreless seventh to earn his first major league victory.
A day after Hurdle announced George Kontos would no longer handle eighth-inning duties, Michael Feliz was the set-up man for closer Felipe Vazquez. Feliz worked around a two-out single in his scoreless inning, and Vazquez did the same in the ninth to earn his eighth save.
It was thanks to Bell, who batted for Santana after Diaz led off the seventh with a double off of former Pirates reliever Joakim Soria and Jordy Mercer drew a one-out walk. Bell slapped a 2-1 fastball not far from where a shortstop traditionally plays, but Chicago's Sanchez was shading Bell toward second base.
"Those are fun to have," Bell said. "Especially when you line out so many times in this game, to see those balls sneak through — especially for a run — it's pretty cool."
In today's game with rest mapped out to a science, top prospects like Bell rarely get an opportunity to pinch hit coming up through the minors or at any other level before that.
"My first times pinch hitting, for the most part, are all in the major leagues," Bell said. " … Hopefully, I can stay hot."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.