PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle slotted Adam Frazier into the leadoff spot on Monday night because rookie shortstop Kevin Newman was due for a day off. Newman had started 18 straight games and 29 of the Bucs’ last 30, batting atop the order in all but one of them. Then Frazier went out and recorded five hits, including an MLB record-tying four doubles, in the Pirates’ 18-5 rout against the Cubs.
Newman returned to the lineup Tuesday, but Hurdle didn’t feel like he could move Frazier down in the order after what happened on Monday night. So Hurdle followed his feeling, hit Frazier leadoff and said he’d own the decision whether it was “good, bad, ugly, whatever.”
It turned out to be good. Very good, even. Good, in one way, that Pirates fans haven’t seen in a decade.
“I feel comfortable right now hitting. [Hitting coach Rick Eckstein] and I have been working the past few days, and I feel like I’m onto something,” Frazier said. “If it’s leadoff or wherever, it doesn’t really matter. Just you and the pitcher, go hit.”
Frazier followed up his historic game with another 4-for-4 night in the Pirates’ 5-1 win over the Cubs on Tuesday at PNC Park. The second baseman scored three runs, doubled again and knocked a three-run homer to right field off lefty Mike Montgomery.
Frazier has nine hits in his last 10 at-bats over the past two nights. He’ll enter Wednesday with a hit in seven straight at-bats, the first Pirate with that kind of streak since Freddy Sanchez from May 25-26, 2009.
“It’s really special, and it’s really good. I’m really proud of him,” Hurdle said. “We’re proud of him. Talk about a shot in the arm to start off a series here the last two nights.”
Frazier hopes it will be the start of a turnaround and not just a couple good nights. His offensive struggles got him demoted from the leadoff spot in late May, and he entered July batting .254 with a .672 OPS. The underlying metrics have been concerning as well, as Frazier has seen his barrel rate, average exit velocity and hard-hit rate decline from last season.
That led Frazier to take extra batting practice on Monday afternoon, an early session before the team’s typical pregame routine, and he spent that time working with Eckstein. They focused on tweaking Frazier’s contact point, Frazier said, getting him to “catch the ball out front.” After batting practice, Frazier said he felt like it was still a “work in progress.”
“Still a work in progress, just trying to perfect that,” Frazier said after Tuesday’s game, which bumped his average up to .276 after sitting at .254 two days ago. “You’re not going to catch everything out front, but that’s just something I’m trying to do. Bring him into the zone and attack the baseball instead of being attacked by the baseball; I’ve had a lot of that this year.”
The work paid off quicker than expected. Frazier’s five hits on Monday came off his bat at 101.7 mph, 98.7 mph, 95.5 mph, 77.6 mph and 100.4 mph. His exit velocities on Tuesday weren’t quite as eye-popping, but the results were nonetheless impressive: single, double, homer and another single.
“You get the same thing with Fraz every day. His work ethic and his mentality never changes, whether he’s hitting .300 or he’s hitting .200,” starter Joe Musgrove said. “That’s the Adam that everyone knows. That’s what we know is in there and what he’s capable of. It’s really good to see it happen.”
Even as Frazier struggled, the Pirates didn’t give up on him. He’s played in 77 of their 84 games, and he ranks third on the team in plate appearances. They felt that he was close to regaining his second-half form from last season. Now, they hope Monday was just the beginning.
“I think he’s worked very hard. He’s made some defensive improvements, if you look at his defensive numbers across the board. He’s showing up every day,” Hurdle said. “It’s not a huge split with left-handers. He gives you a good at-bat. Just felt he’s one of our guys, and you keep him in play and keep grinding with him -- show him not just trust, but belief -- then you give it time to hopefully reignite.”
Archer to start as scheduled
Halfway through a season full of frequently disappointing injury news, the Pirates seemingly dodged a bullet this week. Right-hander Chris Archer, who exited his last outing after four innings due to left hip discomfort, will make his scheduled start against the Cubs on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
“He wouldn’t be pitching if he didn’t think he was capable,” Hurdle said.
Archer threw his between-starts bullpen session on Monday afternoon and reported that he was good to go on Tuesday. That will keep the Bucs’ rotation intact heading into the All-Star break. Archer will be followed by Jordan Lyles in Thursday’s series finale against the Cubs. Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove are scheduled to pitch against the Brewers this weekend.
Theoretically, the Pirates could give Archer additional time to rest by reshuffling their rotation coming out of the All-Star break.
The Pirates announced that they signed four more picks from last month’s MLB Draft, including their highest unsigned picks. Pittsburgh signed right-hander J.C. Flowers from Florida State University (fourth round), infielder Ethan Paul from Vanderbilt University (ninth round), outfielder/second baseman Jake Snider from Louisville University (20th round) and catcher Marshall Gilbert from Mississippi State University (29th round).
The Bucs have signed 35 of their 42 Draft picks, including 23 of their first 24 selections.
Flowers and Paul, a former Vanderbilt teammate of Pirates rookie Bryan Reynolds, will begin their professional careers with Class A Short-Season West Virginia. Snider and Gilbert were assigned to Rookie-level Bristol. Flowers received a signing bonus of $500,000, according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, while Paul signed for $60,000.
First-round pick Quinn Priester made his professional debut on Tuesday afternoon, working 2 1/3 innings in a game for the GCL Pirates.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.