Not even two games into a 162 game season, some of the loonier yinzers in the city have already given up on the Pirates. Why you may ask? Being cynical is part of it, but the Pirates do return to Pittsburgh for the opening series with a lot of questions after dropping two in Boston to begin the season. In 20 innings against the Red Sox, the offense managed only 3 runs with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco going a combined 2-27 in the rain shortened road trip, which will be made up next Thursday at 2 pm. There weren’t many positives for the offense that couldn’t support a pitching staff that limited Boston to runs in only 2 out of 20 innings in the series. Jameson Taillon had a fantastic 2017 debut, allowing no runs and striking out six in seven innings of work. Antonio Bastardo was the only reliever to give up any runs in the 2 games when he was brought in by Clint Hurdle to pitch the 12th inning Wednesday for Juan Nicasio, who only pitched the 11th but could have gone at least another inning.
One of the few positives offensively, and overall for that matter, was the play of Adam Frazier. The second year player born in Georgia didn’t seem rattled by playing in baseball’s most iconic park. He didn’t exactly wow with his bat to any extent against the Red Sox (2-7 with a walk in 2 games), but neither did any of his teammates. The Pirates were able to get Frazier in the lineup with the benefit of the designated hitter, allowing him to start in left for a banged up Polanco in the opener and be the DH Wednesday night. And for a player playing in front of the Green Monster for the first time in his career, he did not look too shabby in what can be a difficult position to play for some young guys, albeit he didn’t look as good as Red Sox rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who limited the Pirates to singles every time they hit one off the monster.
But with the club returning to National League rules until mid-summer, will Hurdle keep rolling with Frazier in the lineup? The question is where? Unless someone needs a day off or an injury occurs, the big three in the outfield have their positions on lock. The logical spot would be second base where Frazier played 17 games last season, the second most games he saw at any position. This would force Josh Harrison to move to third base and/or go back into his super-utility role that was his bread and butter a few years ago. Having Frazier in the lineup on a routine base would mirror what J-Hay did in the past. Jung-ho Kang isn’t going to be with the Pirates anytime soon, unless someone within the organization can convince the federal immigration office to allow him in on a visa. It serves management right for not doing their homework on Kang’s personal life before acquiring his services before the 2015 season.
Obviously Frazier will not help in the power department, but he brings the necessary spark this lineup needs, especially at the leadoff spot. Listen, I know Jordy Mercer has hit well in his career against left handed pitching and Hurdle loves him, but the recipe for success with this team is not with him leading off. He is more suited down in the order in the seven or eight spot. What I like most about Frazier is the fact that he is a throwback player with pure baseball instincts, something that cannot be taught. J-Hay has similar traits and those were on display in his early years with the Pirates, though he was a bit quicker than his teammate currently is. Still, that doesn’t mean Frazier plays with any less hustle than anyone else on the roster including Harrison. Last season when he was brought up in the middle of the year, you could see the impact his play had in some games, giving the lineup life when they needed it most. He hit over .300 in 150 at-bats in his first season in the majors; some guys don’t even get close to that in their rookie season. Having a player at the top of the lineup that can get on base like Frazier is going to help those guys 2-3-4 Marte, McCutchen and Polanco be the stars they are.
Hurdle loves his super-utility guys and the Georgia native has no doubt become the top option in that category with the departure of Sean Rodriguez to the Atlanta Braves. The betting site Bovada came out with their list of odds on MLB managers most likely to be fired first with the Pirates skipper surprisingly coming in with the top odds at 3.5/1, even above guys like Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia. If Hurdle doesn’t want to make those premonitions come true, he would be best suited for playing Frazier as much as possible to give this offense the necessary jolt it needs. This team can contend if they continue to get performances out of their starters like Taillon delivered Wednesday night, but the offense also needs to do its part to support it. Getting guys on base like Frazier who will try to leg out a single into a double gives the core of the Pirates a chance to knock in runs and be the All-Stars they are capable of being. After this home stretch with the Braves and Cincinnati Reds, the club will be tested by some of the best teams in baseball. It will begin with trips to Chicago and St. Louis before returning to PNC Park to take on the Yankees and Cubs. This stretch will be an early test to see if the Pirates are pretenders or contenders this season. And if they at least want to get a split out of this rough patch in April, Frazier must be a regular for the Pirates.