Pirates notebook: Gregory Polanco being groomed to lead off


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LOS ANGELES -- Gregory Polanco shifted to the top of the order for the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians Saturday, a move designed to prepare him for an eventual promotion to the Pirates, general manager Neal Huntington said.

Polanco had been batting third for the Indians, a spot that belongs to reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen on the Pirates.

"As he's shown us more and more signs that he may be putting himself in a position to take that next step, we wanted to make sure we didn't ask him to do something at the major league level that he hasn't done in a long time," Huntington said. "There are some things we're trying to get him used to. Right field is obviously a big one, and that's gone well. I don't know that he's going to hit third for us. ... The last time I checked we've got a pretty good guy there."

The transition to batting leadoff can stymie some players, Huntington said. So getting Polanco reps at Class AAA could smooth the transition.

Though Huntington left open the possibility that he could be slotted into other spots in the order, as well.

"As the leadoff hitter, we want him to be the same guy. But being the first one to step in the box and start a game sometimes can be a little bit different," Huntington said. "Hitting after the pitcher sometimes can be a little bit different. Basically we wanted to reintroduce him to the top of the order which is where conceivably he could fit up here."

As for when Polanco will be in Pittsburgh? Popular assumption is that there is a specific date Polanco will be brought up to avoid Super 2 designation and an extra year of arbitration eligibility.

But teams never know when that date is, and the Pirates have no secret algorithm to figure it out, Huntington said.

"No. There's not. Everyone wants to pretend there's this magic date or this magic number," he said. "We don't know that Gerrit Cole won't be a Super 2 a year from now. We don't know that. That's why we don't let it drive our decisions. If you did, and you're wrong, then you should've had the player up the whole time."

Heading into Saturday, Polanco was batting .348 for the Indians with a .556 slugging percentage, .411 on-base percentage and .937 on-base plus slugging. He had hit 6 home runs, 15 doubles, 5 triples and drove in 45 runs.

Error on the basepaths

When Starling Marte was picked off at second base Friday night on a bunt attempt by Francisco Liriano, it was a blunder manager Clint Hurdle called a "young mistake."

"Young mistakes have to end after a certain period of time," Hurdle said. "We had two guys thrown out stealing. I can live with those. It's hard to swallow the guy getting picked off. You set up the inning just like you want it. ... It kind of wrecks your furniture."

Marte was likely trying to create something extra by taking a big lead off second, which he doesn't need to do with his speed.

"It's a poor play. He's got speed to get to third," Hurdle said. "The onus is on the pitcher to get the bunt down. You see it happen a handful of times and the runner is always in error. You can't lead when he bunts through a ball. You can't be out there."

Ruthless efficiency

Tony Watson celebrated his 29th birthday Friday night with another scoreless inning.

Watson has made 15 consecutive scoreless appearances for the Pirates and been incredibly efficient in that period.

"The volume of work this year, man," Hurdle said. "He can get that ball glove-side with regularity for strikes in off the plate. The slider actually came into play in New York to the left-handers. When he back-foots that slider to the right-hander and sweeps away from the left-hander that's when he's been at his best. It's three plus-pitches."

Watson said it has been business as usual.

"Honestly just going in there, trusting [my catchers], pounding the strike zone," Watson said. "All the same stuff. Just trying to put guys away. It's just trying to throw strike one and put them away after that."

But his slider and changeup have played very well off one another.

"When his changeup's in play the pitch count is what it is. It's nominal. It's 13-14-15," Hurdle said. "The challenge has been now, the league has identified him, they've ID'd him. They know what he's going to do, they still haven't put the barrel to him, but they're fouling off pitches when the changeup is not in play. They're looking for one pitch. They know the changeup -- stay off that. Fastball, you're going to get it, they're catching pieces off it."

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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