In the big news of the day, Josh Harrison was reinstated from the disabled list and is set to rejoin the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday night against San Francisco. In order to make room for him on the active roster, relief pitcher Josh Wall was designated for assignment. Wall was called up recently when Pedro Florimon was designated for assignment, as the bullpen had gone through a heavy stretch and an additional arm was needed more than a bench bat. Essentially, Harrison takes the place of Florimon on the roster.
And to make the news even better, Harrison is playing second base and batting leadoff on Friday night.
Gregory Polanco looks to be the odd man out of the lineup on Friday night, but don’t expect him out of the lineup for long. It makes sense in Friday night’s game because the Pirates are facing Madison Bumgarner, one of the best lefties in all of baseball. Harrison is not playing third base like he had for much of the season, but that’s not a concern because Aramis Ramirez‘s hot bat gets to stay in the lineup and some consider second base to be Harrison’s best defensive position. After all, he played second base more than any other position coming up in the minors and it might be an easier defensive position than third base, where he’s struggled in the fielding department for much of this season. And we all know Harrison’s usefulness as a utility player and how he can play at least adequate defense no matter where he’s placed on the field.
So, what does this move mean for the Pirates? For starters, the bench is immediately improved. If you consider the swap of Florimon for Harrison, there’s no comparison. Harrison’s line this year: .279/.313/.384. Florimon’s line this year: .105/.190/.211. Yes, Florimon’s only had a limited number of at-bats, but he’s generally been a poor offensive player for much of his career.
The addition of Harrison also gives the team improved infield and outfield depth. If someone like Polanco, Ramirez, Jung Ho Kang, or Neil Walker were to go down to injury, the Pirates now have a decent replacement for any of them, as opposed to having to rely on someone like Pedro Florimon or Sean Rodriguez. This added insurance is key for the stretch run.
And let’s not forget about the intangibles that Harrison brings to the table. His energy and personality in the dugout is unmatched, and his knack for getting big hits and making the occasional great defensive play will be important as the playoffs near. His ability to play a multitude of positions also gives manager Clint Hurdle flexibility in choosing a lineup. And the lineup will also be greatly improved, as we’ll see Rodriguez and his sub-par bat in the lineup much less frequently.
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How will the positions and lineup shake out for the time being (i.e. before Jordy Mercer returns)? I’m not sure what Hurdle’s plan is, but I ideally see Harrison as an occasional starter and as a bench bat. Yes, that would mean Harrison forgoing his starting role at third and returning to the super utility role he held for much of last season. But I think that’s best for the team as a whole right now. I see the ideal lineup as such (at least against righties):
1 – Polanco (RF)
2 – Starling Marte (LF)
3 – Andrew McCutchen (CF)
4 – Kang (SS)
5 – Ramirez (3B)
6 – Walker (2B)
7 – Pedro Alvarez (1B)
8 – Francisco Cervelli (C)
9 – Pitcher
Harrison will most likely spell Walker at second base first and foremost, especially against lefties, and occasionally at third base and right field. I don’t see him playing much shortstop with both Kang and Mercer holding down that role. I also see Ramirez as sticking at third for the time being based on his recent hot hitting and the fact that he can’t play any other position but third base. And with Polanco’s hot play the past couple of months, Walker seems to be the odd man out. Harrison will most likely play a multitude of positions and bat leadoff when he does start, dropping Polanco lower in the order.
In the end, there’s one thing that we know for certain: the return of Josh Harrison to the Pittsburgh Pirates is a good thing, and will greatly help this team down the stretch.