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Notes: Cole Tucker's role; possible exhibitions

@adamdberry
July 7, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- What is Cole Tucker's role heading into this season? It’s a great question, he said, but not one he can answer. What does Tucker believe he’s capable of even with that uncertainty? That, he can answer. “I still believe I have the tools to be an everyday shortstop,

PITTSBURGH -- What is Cole Tucker's role heading into this season? It’s a great question, he said, but not one he can answer.

What does Tucker believe he’s capable of even with that uncertainty? That, he can answer.

“I still believe I have the tools to be an everyday shortstop, however that may shake out,” Tucker said. “I’m here to help the team win in whatever capacity that is. … Whatever it is and whatever it may be, I’m excited to do that. I’m excited to help us win because I think I bring pieces to the puzzle that will help us be a better team in this short season and the long term.”

In the short term, it’s hard to see where Tucker might fit on the Pirates’ Opening Day squad. They have Kevin Newman at shortstop and Adam Frazier at second base. They have several utility-infield options on their roster, most notably Erik González and JT Riddle. Pirates manager Derek Shelton has also frequently mentioned non-roster invitee Phillip Evans when discussing Pittsburgh’s infield options.

What about Tucker?

“I think his opportunity would be playing in the middle of the diamond somewhere, depending on how our roster functions out,” Shelton said. “With him being a switch-hitter and having that ability, it is even more intriguing.”

Shelton said the Pirates would feel comfortable with Tucker, the club’s first-round Draft pick in 2014 who debuted last season, at shortstop or second base. He handled himself well at shortstop in Pittsburgh last season, and he believes he’s close to answering some of the remaining questions about his bat.

After slashing .211/.266/.361 over 159 plate appearances as a rookie, Tucker made some encouraging mechanical changes that allowed him to go 8-for-27 with three homers in Spring Training. When he went home to Arizona in March, Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein’s message was simple: Keep doing what you’re doing.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Go home and add to that.’ It was more so, go home and try to refine that and to continue to be good at what I was doing,” Tucker said. “It’s exciting to start taking what we’ve been doing in the cage or in BP onto the field in a competitive at-bat. That’s going to show up. I feel really confident about that.”

Camp notes

• The Pirates began organized on-field activities Tuesday at their alternate training site in Altoona, Pa., which is currently home to 19 of the 59 players in the club’s player pool for this season. The start of Pittsburgh’s secondary camp had previously been delayed while the Pirates were awaiting the results from most of those 19 players’ intake screening.

“It was nice to get that up and running out there,” Shelton said.

• The Pirates pushed back their schedule on Tuesday, starting workouts in the afternoon and finishing at night. That allowed Derek Holland, JT Brubaker and Robbie Erlin to pitch in a simulated game around 7 p.m., approximating a regular-season start time.

Perhaps coincidentally, Holland and Brubaker faced what would seem to be most of the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup: shortstop Newman, second baseman Frazier, left fielder Bryan Reynolds, first baseman Josh Bell, right fielder Gregory Polanco, third baseman Colin Moran and center fielder Jarrod Dyson, with catchers Jacob Stallings and Luke Maile working behind the plate.

Shelton said it was, in fact, a coincidence -- even though it was their first nighttime workout and their first time working out in front of local media.

“That group being together tonight was just the fact that Holland was throwing and Erlin was throwing, and I wanted that group to face those guys,” Shelton said. “I wouldn’t look into that. ... It’s just mixing and matching, depending on the workloads and what we’re trying to do on that specific day.”

• Pirates general manager Ben Cherington and Shelton have said that the Pirates hope to play exhibition games between Summer Camp and the start of the regular season, but no such games were announced along with the regular-season schedule on Monday. Shelton said that the team hasn’t finalized anything yet but hopes to do so “in the next few days.”

“We’re trying to work out details of who we’re going to play, when and where,” Shelton said.

• PNC Park had its first rain delay of the year on Tuesday. With winds whipping and rain looming, the club moved one workout group off the field and into the indoor batting cages around 5:30 p.m. Shelton jokingly chalked it up to bench coach Don Kelly’s masterful planning of both Spring Training and Summer Camp.

“How many people can get Spring Training 2.0 and schedule a rain delay into the workout and then let the groundskeepers get work on getting the [batter’s] box and the mound?” Shelton said, smiling. “You only get that if you hire a guy from Pittsburgh that knows what he’s doing. He’s preparing us for everything. It’s unbelievable.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.