Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had one request of general manager Neal Huntington in the discussions leading up to Monday, when rosters expanded. It went something like this:
Don’t give me too many players …
But that doesn’t mean Hurdle doesn’t want to give young players the opportunity to play for the major league team or to showcase their skills for a month. He doesn’t view September call-up players as a hassle to deal with, either.
The issue is that the Pirates are in contention for a playoff spot and every game is crucial. That means there aren’t going to be many situations where Hurdle will have the luxury of using a player who hasn’t proven himself all season.
That’s why each of the six players the Pirates added this week — pitchers Bobby LaFromboise, John Holdzkom and Casey Sadler, outfielder Chase d’Arnaud and catcher Tony Sanchez along with Gregory Polanco, a rookie who was recently demoted to Class AAA Indianapolis to work on his swing — is someone Hurdle believes can help the Pirates win.
Hurdle said he has given all of the new players defined roles and will now attempt to use them in spots that make sense and give the Pirates the best chance of winning.
Finding those roles is one of the biggest challenges of September call-ups, he said.
“That’s why you always look for a number that you think can be manageable. I have been in situations where I have had less players, I have been in situations where I have had more. I don’t like more.
“The reality is you only have X amount of innings, you only have X amount of games and, depending on where the games go, the opportunities are going to go to the guys who have carried the load throughout the season.”
Hurdle said the three pitchers, LaFromboise, Holdzkom and Sadler, likely will have the most opportunities because the Pirates were looking to bolster their bullpen.
“We are looking for help for Watson, Wilson, Melancon and Gomez right now,” Hurdle said. “There’s going to be opportunities when we are underneath games, when we are one or two runs down, we will give the ball to some guys to find out who is that next guy to fit in and be a fifth guy, to pitch in the seventh, to keep us close underneath.”
LaFromboise is especially valuable, according to Hurdle, because he gives the Pirates a third left-hander in the bullpen.
His journey to the Pirates has been a long one. He began the season with Seattle in the spring, was waived then signed by San Diego in April, then waived by the Padres and signed by the Pirates in August.
He appeared in five games in Indianapolis, pitched four innings and gave up two hits and no runs. He knows his opportunities will be limited but he wants to make the most of them.
“I want just to be able to help the team win in whatever role that is,” LaFromboise said. “I am pretty sure my role is to get lefties out and, when they call on me, that will be the plan, just go get guys out. This has been a weird year for me so far. I am thankful I have this opportunity here, but I have to make the most of it.
“My main goal is to help the team win games, but at the same time, hopefully I do well enough that these guys really like me and keep me around for a while.”
Holdzkom, like LaFromboise, was well traveled before he got to the Pirates. He got his opportunity to shine in his first game Tuesday and made the most of it.
With the Pirates trailing the Cardinals, 6-4, in the bottom of the eighth, Holdzkom entered the game and struck out the side to keep the Pirates within striking distance.
Even though they lost that night, Holdzkom did his job. He said it felt good to contribute but he needs to keep working hard to make sure he gets more.
“When you are a reliever, you are just hoping for a shutout inning and I got that. The three strikeouts were a bonus,” Holdzkom said. “It really, for all of us coming up here, is about opportunity and making the most of it. It can be tough to fit in, but the guys in this clubhouse are great and it is nice to be a part of a contender.”
Sadler, who appeared in five games earlier this year during a stint with the Pirates, said that he understands Hurdle’s quandary in finding playing time for the call-ups.
But he said the fact he is, at least for now, part of the plans for a contending club is recognition of his hard work. Now it is up to him to show he was deserving of this promotion.
“I just want to get in and play [the game] the way that it is supposed to be played and contribute to wins any way that I can,” Sadler said. “To be here is an honor, and when you are called up to a playoff team, it adds incentive. I have been blessed enough to have a good enough year to be viewed by the front office as someone they trust and think can help the team out down the stretch.”
Hurdle said he doesn’t feel any pressure to get the called-up players into games because his job is to manage the Pirates to the postseason. That means putting the best players on the field every day.
“I don’t think there needs to be a luxury for us to take a look at these guys because there are only a couple of them [Holdzkom and LaFromboise] that we don’t know,” Hurdle said. “You’d like to give them more opportunity, but opportunity is based on what you have done to earn it.
“There will be some opportunities, but this isn’t Little League. Your dad can’t call and get you in the game.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.