With regular playing time, Frazier honing defense

Kuhl throws bullpen session; Kang rehabbing in Bradenton, Fla.

September 5th, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- The ball came off 's bat and descended into shallow center field last Wednesday at Busch Stadium. rushed to back up home plate. , unable to make the play, stretched out his arms. But dashed back from second base and made an over-the-shoulder catch, saving at least one run in the Pirates' 2-0 win over the Cardinals.

It was a highlight-reel play, as easy to appreciate as the video-game offensive numbers Frazier has put up since returning from Triple-A on July 25 -- and just one example of Frazier's improved confidence in the field lately.

"I feel good out there, the best I've felt since I've been up here," Frazier said. "Just being aggressive with the feet has helped a lot. Just having some confidence and wanting the ball hit to you, making the plays."

Manager Clint Hurdle also noted Frazier's first-step quickness and agreed that he "seems to be in a better place defensively." The numbers back up that assessment, as Frazier has posted a .971 fielding percentage at second (up from .951 there last year) while recording two Defensive Runs Saved (compared to zero last year). Having to worry about fewer positions could be a factor in Frazier's comfort and confidence, Hurdle said.

The past two years, the super-utility man spent time at second, third, shortstop and all three outfield positions. This season, Frazier's work in Triple-A and the Majors has been limited to second base and the outfield. Wednesday was Frazier's third straight start at second and his seventh in his last 10 starts; he started two of the other three games in left.

"Sometimes, it gets down to what you need to do if you want to play every day. I think he's got a really good understanding of what he needs to do, the kind of player he needs to be to play more," Hurdle said. "Nobody wants to be labeled early in their career a one-dimensional player. 'Well, you know, there's enough bat there that he can go play defense.' I don't think anybody wants to wear that tag."

Trainer's room

Right-hander , on the 60-day disabled list with a right forearm strain, threw 30 fastballs in a bullpen session on Monday, director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said. The next step for Kuhl is throwing his offspeed pitches, first during a flat-ground session and eventually in the bullpen.

Infielder (left wrist surgery) is rehabbing in Bradenton, Fla., now that Triple-A Indianapolis' season is over. Tomczyk said Kang is still in the "early stages of the swing process," taking dry swings, but not yet putting bat to ball. Kang, who has not played in the Majors since 2016, has a $5.5 million club option for next season.

The Pirates still hope to see Kuhl and Kang play in some type of competitive environment this season, whether it's later this month in the Majors or during the fall instructional league.

Catcher (strained right hamstring) is "truly day to day," Tomczyk said. Diaz would like to return this season, but the Pirates don't want to risk further injury by rushing him back when they're out of the postseason race. Pittsburgh has three other catchers on the roster: , and .

"There's going to be a point where this just doesn't make sense for him, for us," Tomczyk said. "He wants to play."

Related

Around the horn

• Right-hander rejoined the Pirates on Wednesday after leaving the team to attend to a personal matter. Nova will start against the Marlins on Saturday at PNC Park.

• The Pirates gave reliever a week off to manage his workload, but he pitched in the eighth inning of the club's 3-2 win over the Reds on Wednesday. Santana allowed a hit and recorded two strikeouts in his scoreless frame. With the outing, he tied his career high of 63 appearances, which he also posted last year across Triple-A and the Majors.