Pirates Notebook: Harrison Feeling Comfortable at Shortstop

Photo by Mark Olson

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Over 18 games during Grapefruit League action, Josh Harrison has played at third, second and shortstop. Harrison, 24, is making progress at short during spring training. He is battling for a backup utility role, which would include playing games at short when Clint Barmes needs rest.

“He’s making progress,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said of Harrison at short. “There have been a couple balls that have challenged him, throws, a part of it. Just re-acclimating himself to that part of the diamond. He played there a long time ago, but we started the process early with [work at the] Instructional League. We’re feeding him all the innings we can feed him this spring.”

“He made a beautiful play [Tuesday], up the middle. Big time. Beautiful play. It’s just the comfort, and the repetition, the experience of getting out there. The kids not going to get out worked. He’s not going to be out prepared now. The effort and attitude is good. You’re going to pull for him. We’ll keep trying to find him innings, and see if he can find that balance that we’d like to be able to see the guy that we have backing up [Clint] Barmes can bring to the table.”

Harrison added a fourth position on Wednesday night in Port Charlotte, where he made his debut in left field.

“If the long-range goal is for Josh to be a super utility guy, that’s something I definitely think I have every confidence he’ll be able to pull off,” Hurdle said.

Last season with Pittsburgh, Harrison appeared in 50 games at third base and six and second. But over the offseason, Harrison improved his versatility by getting reps in at shortstop.

“It’s definitely an advantage,” Harrison said of being more versatile. “I look at where I was last year, I was able to play more than one position and it just helped. And add another position to that definitely shows how much more you can help.”

On October 3rd, Harrison headed down to Bradenton, Fla., for 10 days for the Fall Instructional League to work on adding shortstop, making him a more valuable player off the bench, in late game switches, and to give the regulars a day off. Harrison hasn’t played shortstop regularly since playing in College at the University of Cincinnati.

The 24-year-old played in one game at shortstop during the 2011 season with Triple-A Indianapolis. It was the first time since being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2008 that Harrison had gotten playing time at shortstop.

“I’m definitely feeling comfortable,” Harrison said. “I played there ever since I was little, so it’s not something that’s totally foreign to me. It wasn’t really anything that I felt it was going to take a long time, but getting more reps definitely feels better.”

Having had the experience during the 2011 season, Harrison has seemed to adjust to bench role and is more prepared this year.

“I think there is definitely a difference this spring, but there’s also a marked difference last year after he went down the second time and came back up,” Hurdle said. “It is different. Most kids when they get called up, they’ve played. They’ve played everywhere they’ve been to a large degree. It is finding out what you need to do to stay ready, to maintain bat speed.”

“How much work you have to take. You’re not overworking, or fatigued once it’s time [to play], find that nice mix. You got to mix in some velocity in the cage. You got to mix in some spin. You can’t just hit off coaches. You’ve got to work hard physically. When you’re not on the bases, you got to run the bases…He’s shown up in a real good place this spring coming over the experience he was able to get last year.”

In 65 games with the Pirates last season, Harrison had a .272 average in 135 at-bats with 21 runs, 13 doubles, two triples, one home run, 16 RBI and four stolen bases. So far this spring, Harrison has hit for a .424 (14-for-33) average over 18 games with a team-leading seven doubles. He also has a triple, five RBI and two stolen bases.

Shift Happens

During the Pirates 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, the club was able to put the shift on several different occasions and get an out. Hurdle said it was something that he believes the club has taken a huge step forward in doing.

“It all depends on the pitch location anytime you set your defense,” Hurdle said. “It’s one thing I thought we took a huge stride forward last year. A huge stride forward. Our pitchers are getting the ball where we need to get the ball. They’re following the glove. It makes the opportunities to play defense and do things much more accessible. And that’s more efficient when our pitchers can gather locations where you’re anticipating going and you can set up your defense accordingly.”

Hurdle Happy With Extra Work

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said he is happy with all the early work the club has been putting in this spring. Every home game at McKechnie Field, the Pirates take work on their defense as early as 8:00 a.m. to improve their defense this season.

“The game is the game, but what we’ve done a great job of is all the early work we’re doing,” Hurdle said. “We’re working on turns and pivots and throws at 8:00 [a.m].”

“I just think it’s just a repetition that you need to keep in play. We take it everyday at home…We try to make sure we get a ton of throws when they’re in the field taking their ground balls. Everybody takes a good volume of balls, mix a good number of throws, and turn double plays from across the diamond. During the season, I just like to keep it fresh. I think it’s something that we just don’t turn our back on, we keep in play. You just got to practice that. We need guys throwing balls to other guys, just playing catch from a longer distance come game time to execute well.”

Since the club has decided to go with a platoon at first base to start the season of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee, the infielders have been working hard on throws to the bag. Matt Hague, who is battling for a utility role this spring, has also been getting playing time and work in at first. The infielders have been working on getting familiar with each other early in the morning before the games.

“The first baseman is receiving the throws from all the different infielders,” Hurdle said. “We’re also doing all that work after BP when we’re at McKechnie when we’re on that backfield. They’re getting repetition. They’re figuring out who’s ball does what. When his arm’s high, does it carry? When he drops down, is there some sail to it? We’re all figuring it out through the experience of practice, and the game.”

Karstens’ Fans 10

Right-hander Jeff Karstens faced the Triple-A Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin on Tuesday. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle elected to send Karstens to pitch a minor league game so he could focus on getting his pitch count up, and pitch deep into the game. Hurdle also wanted to get some of the relievers work in.

“We had a good game plan,” Karstens said. “We were working pretty quick. It makes it a little bit easier when you have all four pitches working, so for that to be working, it was good. I got some work in and I was able to get up 98 pitches.”

Over 7.1 innings, Karstens scattered three hits and gave up no runs. He walked two and struck out 10 batters.

“Just a better temp, because the last game I walked four guys,” Karstens said on what he worked on. ” I walked guys on really bad pitches, so I was really working on staying in the zone and getting ahead. I had two walks yesterday, but one was a really close pitch that I couldn’t believe the guy didn’t swing at. The next one was just a ball. It’s just one of those things where it happens. After that, it was an efficient day.

Karstens said one of his goals before leaving spring training was to get to six innings, 100 pitch mark. He was able to check that off his list with less than a week before the team travels north.

“Now I know my next start will be nice and light,” Karstens said. “After that, it’s full go until Clint thinks you’re done. There’s no pitch count, guys pitching on certain days. Its whoever’s got to go, has to go, so we got to be ready to go once Sunday comes around.  Just kind of see where it takes us.”

Navarro Fine, But Doesn’t Travel

Infielder Yamaico Navarro was taken out of yesterday’s game in the 7th inning after getting hit by a pitch on the left forearm. He was diagnosed after the game with a forearm contusion, and was sent back to Bradenton early to get X-Rays.

This afternoon, Navarro said he was fine and that the x-rays were negative. He was wearing a sleeve on his arm, and also had it wrapped with ice while in the clubhouse today. Navarro was not in the lineup, and did not travel with the team today to Port Charlotte.