CHICAGO -- What stood out to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Thursday wasn't necessarily the two homers Gregory Polanco slugged in a 6-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It was what happened in between them.Polanco took starter Kyle Hendricks deep to right in the first inning, then he
CHICAGO -- What stood out to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Thursday wasn't necessarily the two homers Gregory Polanco slugged in a 6-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It was what happened in between them.
Polanco took starter Kyle Hendricks deep to right in the first inning, then he struck out swinging in each of his next two at-bats. In the seventh, he blasted a fastball from left-hander Justin Wilson out to left-center to complete his third career multi-homer game, and his first since Aug. 23, 2016, and kick-start a four-run rally that put the Pirates' ninth win of the season away.
But what did the strikeouts have to do with anything?
"What I love is the short memory that he's got going on up there, that one at-bat is not leaking to the next," Hurdle said. "Each at-bat is an individual competition. There's no hangover after a bad one. ... It was good to see from him."
There's been a lot to like about Polanco's early-season power surge. He finished the game with the Major League lead in RBIs with 15, and he ranks among the leaders with five home runs. Last season, Polanco drove in his 15th run of the season on June 17 and hit his fifth home run on June 22 as he battled through frequent injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness.
Now, he's healthy and hitting.
"There's strength in everything he does. There's maturity, too," Hurdle said. "He's another year older. He's seen more. He dealt with so much adversity physically as well as professionally, playing, that was hard, that I think he's used it as positive motivation going forward. The focus and preparation, they've been ramped up."
Polanco's first homer of the day was his second career shot off Hendricks and his 10th hit in 23 at-bats against the right-hander. The ball came off Polanco's bat with an exit velocity of 108.4 mph, according to Statcast™, and it traveled a projected 440 feet. It was Polanco's third-longest homer since Statcast™ began tracking home run distances, and the 108.4-mph exit velocity tied his fifth-hardest homer in the same span.
"I just feel like I'm in a good position," said Polanco, who's slashing .262/.385/.714 through his first 11 games. "I have to keep working."
His seventh-inning shot wasn't hit quite as hard, registering an exit velocity of 102.5 mph, but it was his first homer off a lefty since he took Astros reliever Tony Sipp deep on Aug. 23, 2016. The 383-foot homer gave Pittsburgh a two-run lead before Francisco Cervelli's three-run homer off Wilson broke open the game.
The at-bats were different in many ways, but they both ended with Polanco crushing an elevated fastball on the outer half of the plate.
"You've got to see it up," Polanco said. "It's hard to get extra-base [hits] or homers when the pitch is down. That's the pitcher's pitch down there. You've got to stay with your plan and put a good swing on it."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.