Gene Collier: It's time for arrival of Polanco

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Would Gregory Polanco please pick up a white courtesy phone?

Regarding a Pirates offense that this week went so quiet you could hear an obvious suggestion drop, the name of one of baseball's top prospects must inevitably be batted around harder than anything the varsity managed in a failed 2-6 homestand that just got tacked onto a failed 3-6 road trip.

"They're trying everything," losing pitcher Brandon Cumpton said when asked about how Class AAA pitchers are approaching Polanco these days. "Inside, outside, off-speed early, off-speed late. He keeps getting hits and can he run. He's a lot bigger than I thought, too -- he's like 6-4, 225."

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Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier takes an irreverent look at hot topics -- even cold ones -- in the world of sports. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 4/24/2014)

Cumpton came up from Indianapolis for Thursday's matinee to take the rotation spot vacated by Wandy Rodriguez, who is on the disabled list having his 7.65 ERA drained, or something. As he does pretty reliably in these assignments, Cumpton pitched six shutout innings, those around the one when Cincinnati's Ryan Ludwick banged a two-run double, two runs that the big club readily lists on the line next to Cause of Death.

The Pirates scored their one and only in the first, thanks to a walk and two infield hits. Meaning they scored one Thursday, two the day before, one the day before that and would have been swept by the Reds had not second baseman Brandon Phillips misplayed a ninth-inning looper in the first of a four-game series.

Clint Hurdle's various lineups have scored 1, 2, or 0 runs in 12 of their first 23 games.

I don't know if Cumpton was thinking he would like to see Polanco come to the plate in one of the eight situations Thursday when a runner or runners were in scoring position, just to see if the 22-year-old stud could manage something more dynamic than Pedro Alvarez's shutout-averting RBI dribbler.

I know I was thinking exactly that, and I think Hurdle has begun to think similar thoughts.

"I think at this point in time there's other people involved in that decision-making process and we continue to work through that," Hurdle said. "I talked at length with [Class AAA Indianapolis manager] Dean Treanor yesterday. There's a lot of different things to look at besides numbers. Who you're facing, how you're facing them. I know we've got some guys down there, obviously, that we're interested in, one in particular.

"We've also got some guys here that need to find some consistency and use the opportunity that's there, while it's there, to get something done, and see where that takes us."

Polanco's numbers are demanding attention, so it's always a little amusing when an organization obsessed with putting a quantifier next to every step every player takes finds itself instructing you that numbers aren't everything.

For Indianapolis, Polanco has a slash line of .420/.460/.679/1.139 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 20 games, or eight more than anyone in Pittsburgh has in 23.

Player development, I realize, is a highly specialized process that is incubated independently of the circumstances surrounding the big league club, no matter how fast they are deteriorating, I guess.

"Everything takes care of itself in time, I really believe that," Hurdle said. "I do believe that moves will be made when it's the right time to make 'em.

"If they need to be made."

The problem is that by the time it's Polanco Time, the Pirates' ostensible reservation at one of the best tables in the National League Central race could be in jeopardy. With their 12th loss in the past 17 games, the Pirates find themselves 71/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates never trailed by even 41/2 all of last season.

Behind by just a run and wading into a Cincinnati bullpen that does not include 100 mph throwing Aroldis Chapman Thursday, the Pirates sent Ike Davis, Alvarez, and Jose Tabata to bat in the eighth inning against nondescript Sam LeCure.

LeCure struck out the side on 11 pitches: Davis looking, Alvarez looking, Tabata swinging. Jordy Mercer went down swinging to start the ninth, the 12th strikeout of a long, enfeebled afternoon.

The risks involved in promoting Polanco prematurely don't seem all that considerable against such a backdrop. If Gregory the Great struggles mightily and that .403 batting average suddenly shrinks to .176, what do you do then?

Based on the protocols now firmly in place, that's pretty easy -- you make him the cleanup hitter.

There is risk associated with not promoting him with some urgency, as well, unless everyone's OK with the Pirates season effectively ending before the Penguins season.

Gene Collier:

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