Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Harrison has had quite a month.
By Bob Smizik / Special to the Post-Gazette
What a week it has been for Josh Harrison, the one-time quintessential 25th man who has worked his way into a starting role with the Pirates and is playing a semi-strange position like he owns it while sparking an offense that is showing signs of life.
Harrison should be enjoying a good laugh on the many of us who ridiculed his talents and scoffed at the notion he could ever be anything but, at best, the last man on the roster.
He wasn’t exactly in the middle of the Pirates’s 4-3 win over Washington last night at PNC Park, but he had another hit and made a dramatic game-ending catch in right field.
After a flurry of successful playing time early in the month, Harrison, as is usually the case, found his way back to the bench and in the four games before the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader his contributions included one pinch-running stint.
But manager Clint Hurdle gave him a start at third base in the second game against the Yankees and all he did was put the Pirates ahead to stay with a seventh-inning home run and then, moved to left field due to an injury to Starling Marte, make a potentially game-saving catch in the eighth. The catch was made at a position and in a ballpark with which he had little or no familiarity.
He has started the past four games in right field and Hurdle let it be known yesterday the job was his until he proved he didn’t deserve it.
The highlight of the week was Thursday against Washington when Harrison did something his more celebrated outfield colleague Andrew McCutchen has never done since debuting in 2009 -- bring to mind the great Andy Van Slyke. With a fully extended dive, his body near parallel to the ground, Harrison robbed Wilson Ramos of, at least, a leadoff double in the sixth inning with the Pirates ahead by only a run.
Harrison had one hit last night and his catch in the ninth, with the tying run on base, added a dramatic flair to the end of the game, although, in truth, his inexperience in the outfield might have made the play look more difficult than it was.
Harrison has done more than make totally unexpected plays in the field and deliver some big hits. He has given the Pirates a spark at the top of the lineup. Batting No. 1 this season, he is hitting .341 (14-for-41) with an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage close to .600.
Considering that his competition in right field -- until the arrival of Gregory Polanco -- is Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, Harrison’s stay in the starting lineup might be longer than many expect.
This might be just a fluky stretch for Harrison or it might be a case of a young player who has steadily improved since making his MLB debut in 2011. He was on and off the roster for much of his first three seasons but there were signs of progress. Last year, in limited playing time, he showed a knack for handling left-handed pitching.
This year he is showing not so much that he has a future as a starting MLB right fielder or third baseman but one as a solid utility player. He has gone from the last man on the Pirates bench to -- should he lose his starting job -- their best reserve.
When the game ended last night, with Jason Grilli making a triumphant return from the disabled list with an unexpected opportunity to earn a save, Harrison was batting .296 with a .342 on-base percentage and a .493 slugging percentage. He is second on the team in batting, fourth in OBP and second in slugging.
It’s not likely going to last, but this much is for certain: JayHay has come a long, long way.
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