Gregory Polanco Does It All in Pirates Win Over Brewers

PITTSBURGH — Gregory Polanco had a career night on Tuesday, going 4 for 4 with two doubles, two runs, an RBI, and a crucial outfield assist in the Pirates’ 4-2 win over the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

It almost didn’t happen because of something that occurred three days prior.

Friday night, Polanco had one really bad trip around the bases.

Polanco jogged out of the box on a well-struck ball to left-center, thinking that he had hit an easy home run. The ball ended up caroming off the top of the fence for what would have likely been an easy triple if Polanco had been running out of the box. Instead he had to settle for a double and it got worse from there, as he advanced to third and then promptly got picked off by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina by retreating to the bag too casually.

Molina is probably a Hall-of-Famer some day and Polanco is far from the first player that he’s victimized, but all in all, it was a bad look for Polanco, who had struggled mightily at the beginning of the season, but seemed to be turning things on heading into the All-Star break.

Immediately after Polanco’s misadventures on the base paths, there were calls from fans and members of the Pittsburgh media for manager Clint Hurdle to bench or otherwise publicly
discipline the 25-year-old right-fielder.

Hurdle declined, sending Polanco right back out to the field the next inning. He was rewarded for doing so Friday when Polanco came through with a big RBI single at the plate the very next inning.

But it’s gone way beyond that. Polanco is a player that for quite some time now has been struggling to find his way in the mental part of the game. A player that feeds off positive emotions, all too often in his career, he let things that didn’t go well bother him and carry over from one at-bat or game to the next.

Polanco was on a bona-fide hot streak before the break, hitting .406/.441/.656 in nine games in early July. But the fourth inning on Friday easily could have been a turning point had Polanco and Hurdle handled things differently.

Instead, it was just a blip in what’s become a scorchingly successful month. He’s gone 6 for 12 in three games since then and is hitting .438 for the month of July on the whole. Polanco is in a very good place right now and Hurdle deserves credit for pushing the right buttons to keep him there after a rough night on the bases.

Here’s what Hurdle had to say after the game on Friday:

“The game humbles you. When you don’t meet the demands of the game, it can put you in a bad place. Sometimes when however many people in the ballpark boo you, that gets your attention, as well. It was a tough trip around the bases with Greg that time. There’s probably a good chance third base was an option. We all know about Molina. We’ve had the conversation ad nauseam about Molina. You can’t turn your back on Molina. … It’s unfortunate. It should never happen to him again in his career. We address them internally. We talk about them internally. The fans need to react the way they need to react. They did tonight.”

Tuesday, Hurdle had this to say about the way that he lets his players handle adversity.

“He had a very humbling game a couple of games ago, while he was playing his best baseball of the year. You encourage them and you challenge them and you find those opportunities where you can make sure that you really believe in them and they can play and do some specific, special things.

“However, they’ve also got to respect the game and they’ve got to play hard. It’s been fun watching him roll into July. There’s a different look in his eye. There’s parts of his game that took over tonight. The throw, at-bats, driving balls. He’s been doing it since the month of July has rolled around.”

Hurdle accurately saw that on the whole, Polanco was doing more right than wrong when he made those two mistakes on Friday and chose to trust the player to respond to them the right way. That’s not something that Polanco may have done earlier in his career, but he’s in a much better place mentally right now.

“Yeah for sure,” Polanco said when asked if he would have let it affect him more earlier in his career. “When it happened, it happened. After that you can’t do anything. Just move forward and pay attention. … I’m getting better at that. In the past, when you’re younger, you might make an error in the game and you get frustrated for the whole game, for like a couple days. Now you feel like, move forward and be ready for the next one.”

“I think when there’s a good person deep down inside and he wants to do the right things and he gets embarrassed and he embarrasses his team, he has that rough night, yeah, I think he finds it down in himself to dig it out and go,” Hurdle said. “It happens to different players at different times. If this man wants to be a good player, there’s certain things he’s going to have to do every night and take that good and roll it into some consistency.

Mechanically, Polanco is in a much better place than he was earlier in the season, as well, particularly against left-handers. His first two hits Tuesday came against left-handed Milwaukee starter Brent Suter and his last one came against lefty reliever Tyler Webb.

“There’s timing, the rhythm, there’s extension, his head is on the ball, good looks at some left-handers,” Hurdle rattled off. “The swing is synced up. There’s power.”

Polanco said he’s simplified his approach against left-handers this season along with his overall focus on staying short to the ball, which gives him longer to identify pitches.

“Just shorten my swing and take the middle and not think too much about left field,” he said. “Just take the middle, see the ball, hit the ball.”

KUHL FINDS K’S

Chad Kuhl struck out six batters over his first 3.1 innings and went on to set a new career high with seven. His last one came in a big spot with the bases loaded and Jonathan Villar up with two outs in the fourth inning. He didn’t throw any more after that, but he had already showed a lot of what he wanted to early on.

“It was just fastball command,” he said. “I threw some good changeups, but I was mixing two-seam and four-seam and had a lot of success.”

Hurdle agreed. Like most pitchers, everything else is going to play off the four-seam fastball for Kuhl. If he can command it, his new five-pitch mix is going to fool some people.

“He’s got the ability to do that,” he said, “As the fastball plays, you get them gearing up for the swing, then you can spin the ball and throw the changeup. It played out tonight.”

After the strikeout barrage, Kuhl leaned on the two-seam fastball to get hitters already in swing mode to make some quick outs. That will be important if this combination is going to be successful, because his four innings took him 77 pitches to complete. If he’s going to go deeper into games, he’s going to have to also mix in some more efficient innings.

Kuhl got three straight ground ball outs in the fifth and another to start the sixth when the command that had set everything up early on failed him. He walked two batters and was removed from the game after 102 pitches. But the blueprint is there for the future.

“Having that four-seamer just has it in their mind,” he said. “It’s not something they’re going to be able to sell out to. You get a straight one and then one that sinks off the barrel. That’s the whole idea, to get those weak contact.”

It’s been a pretty solid run as of late for Kuhl. He gave up one run in six innings July 1 against San Francisco. He went seven innings for the first time all season in Philadelphia on July 6 and gave up three runs. Then, he bailed out the bullpen by going three on an off day when Jameson Taillon was scratched before the break.

“It’s good to get the results and it feels good to kind of get rolling a bit,” Kuhl said. “I had some rough stretches, but these past couple games, it’s been big to finally see the results that you’ve been looking for. It’s a big boost for me and a big boost from the club.”

  • Todd Tomasic
    July 18, 2017 11:05 am

    Kuhl will make a fine set-up man in a year or so.

  • Kevin Brown 2.0 :):) I’m kind of a big Kuhl fan lol

    • He needs to gain better control of his curve and change-up, though, to realize his full potential. You could see the second time through the lineup his heavy fastball approach was not working. I do like his potential and competitiveness.

  • And another stellar performance from Watson!!!!!!!

    • Any sarcasm in that statement? He never has had a true out pitch, but was able to get by with velocity and command. Both have left him this year and he has become very frustrating to watch. Thanks to the Kiddie Korps for being there again last night – Kuhl, Polanco, Bell, Osuna, Frazier.

      Last 28 days, Freese has a .137 BA, .196 Slugging Percentage. Can Osuna get a chance at 3B?

      • I have a feeling you’ll see Harrison there and Frazier at second when Marte arrives. They’ll keep grooming Osuna for 3b. I’d love to see that.

        • Osuna has played almost 400 games through the minors at 1B and has done fairly well. I know 3B is a more difficult position, but how long does grooming actually take and how hard are they working at it?

      • Hard to believe Freese still has a 101 wRC+ for July. But it’s all walks. So we’ll see more of him taking 3-2 borderline pitches for called Ks with the bags loaded.

        Meantime, Harrison’s wRC+ for July is a whopping 2. He’s got to get back on track if Bucs are going anywhere.

      • Scott Kliesen
        July 18, 2017 12:00 pm

        Exactly why I was pleasantly surprised to see Matheny intentionally walk Freese to pitch to Frazier on Sunday. I suppose saying he wanted the lefty vs lefty matchup will give him a good excuse why they lost. However, us astute baseball fans know he screwed up.

        • Excellent point, but either way, Matheny would have been wrong. Frazier is an above average hitter regardless of facing a lefty or a righty. Same as Osuna being a much stronger hitter against RHP’s.

  • Heard Bowden on MLB Radio tonight…whew, he has absolutely nothing positive to say about the Pirates. A below average, sub .500 team that needs to see what they can get for McCutchen and Cole. If they make moves in the standings and they’re in the playoffs… he’ll discuss how the Pirates did the right thing holding on to the core. I absolutely don’t enjoy listening to this guy.

    • Bowden never liked the Buccos after they did not hire him for a GM job twenty years ago.

      • The Pirates have to think long and hard on any offers on Gerrit Cole, because value on SP’s is at the absolute max right now. The market for OF is not there, so no on ‘Cutch . . . . unless the Nats come calling. They have lost Eaton for the season, and Werth, who is making $21 mil and is 38, leaves after 2017. They could make $7 mil on that exchange and get a better player.

    • I can see where Bowden is coming from, gthe Pirates have been a sub .500 team for months. But what makes me laugh when guys like him slag the Pirates but talk about the Cardinals like they are truly a contending team. Or act like the Brewers have suddenly strengthened beyond belief. Right now there is only one dominating team in the NL, and barring injuries, they will be in the WS.

      • My problems with him are how he has had obvious tinted glasses since he left Pittsburgh. It’s always a negative thing. I don’t understand why they have to sell Cole. It’s an extremely good core for Pittsburgh that will be there next year. Assuming no more PED usage. Plus, maybe legit SP depth.

        • I agree Travis. Even though I am “miserable” and want other commenters to ” get off my lawn “.

          • Will Dems ever win again?
            July 18, 2017 5:17 pm

            If you’re not miserable, why do you act like a moron to some on here?

  • Who wanted to banish Polanco to the bench last week in these comments?

    • I dont recall it here as much as on Bucs Dugout. I am peeved when players making millions don’t hustle. Polanco did it again tonight to a lesser degree.

      • I agree. How hard is it to run hard 4 times per night?

        With that being said, it would’ve been foolish to make an example of the hottest hitter on the team that’s trying to claw there way back into contention.

        • Oh I agree. I don’t think you have to set him down and damage the teams chances for a win especially when you only have 2 true outfielders. If a manager of people can’t deal with it without damaging the team, whether a baseball team or a work team, they should not be managing. Good managers also don’t manage through the press or public comments. I wasn’t one of the ones calling for him to be set down.

      • Clown.

        • Scott Kliesen
          July 18, 2017 12:05 pm

          What exactly did Edward say that warranted your childish response, Leo?

          Polanco doesn’t come across as the type who should be coached in a confrontational manner. He looks like the type of guy who benefits from a soft voice and pat on the back, rather than a face to face loud talk followed by a kick in the pants.

          I see this as Hurdle knowing his player.

          • Will Dems ever win again?
            July 18, 2017 1:05 pm

            We all know that Leo is miserable. He definitely has the quintessential “get off my lawn” type of mentality.
            He boosts his self esteem by belittling others.
            He won’t have the courage to respond to your post.
            He’s akin to Bruce Humbert. He eventually will wear out his welcome.

            • ” He won’t have the courage to respond to your post.” Yeah, sure. Scott knew damned well I would respond or he wouldn’tve asked that question. As for you, I will be on this site when you have forgotten about it or can’t pay the subscription fee,

              • Will Dems ever win again?
                July 18, 2017 5:12 pm

                Why would I forget about PP, Leo?
                You make no sense whatsoever.

          • ” Polanco did it again tonight to a lesser degree.” What the hell kind of comment is that if not a clown comment ? What did he do ? Not throw the ball hard enough to home ? Not hit it hard enough on his bloop single ? Give it a break !

            • Will Dems ever win again?
              July 18, 2017 5:14 pm

              Instead of being so abrasive, why didn’t you ask Edward C , what he meant by his comment?

    • I could start naming names, there were plenty of them. But it won’t prove anything at this point but the fact that a whole lot of commenters really don’t have a clue.

    • I wanted to put him on the DL…..so there’s that.

    • piraterican21
      July 18, 2017 9:51 am

      It wasn’t the bench they asked for a demotion, fans!

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