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Polanco hitting stride all over diamond in July

Pirates right fielder is batting .438 this month after 4-for-4 game vs. Brewers
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Three days ago, Gregory Polanco was booed at PNC Park for a lack of hustle. But there he was Monday night, taking an extra base in the fifth inning, legging out a double, cutting down a run at the plate with a max-effort throw home.

Polanco was in the middle of everything in the Pirates' 4-2 win over the Brewers, and he may be hitting his stride just as the Bucs hit theirs. Polanco went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles and a run-saving outfield assist as Pittsburgh won for the eighth time in 10 games, creeping closer toward .500 and division-leading Milwaukee.

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PITTSBURGH -- Three days ago, Gregory Polanco was booed at PNC Park for a lack of hustle. But there he was Monday night, taking an extra base in the fifth inning, legging out a double, cutting down a run at the plate with a max-effort throw home.

Polanco was in the middle of everything in the Pirates' 4-2 win over the Brewers, and he may be hitting his stride just as the Bucs hit theirs. Polanco went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles and a run-saving outfield assist as Pittsburgh won for the eighth time in 10 games, creeping closer toward .500 and division-leading Milwaukee.

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"There's parts of this game he took over tonight -- the throw, at-bats, driving balls," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's been the kind of player we've seen before."

Video: MIL@PIT: Polanco nails Pina at the plate, ends 6th

But the Pirates did not see this version of Polanco often enough earlier this season. He ended June with a .237/.300/.368 slash line and a handful of injuries to look back on: a sore left shoulder out of Spring Training, a strained left hamstring in mid-May, a sprained right ankle in late May and an occasionally sore right knee.

But he's healthy now, he said, and it's showing. Polanco is hitting .438 with two homers, six doubles, seven RBIs and seven runs in 13 games this month. Hurdle observed that Polanco's swing is "synced up, and there's power in it."

"I feel pretty comfortable. I feel good because I'm healthy now and I feel strong," Polanco said. "I know now I feel my hands are quick, so I can see the ball."

Polanco led off the third with a single to center off left-hander Brent Suter. He put the Pirates on the board in the fifth by doubling home Jose Osuna, again off Suter, then hustled to third on shortstop Orlando Arcia's errant throw home and scored the tying run on Jordy Mercer's sacrifice fly.

Video: MIL@PIT: Polanco hits RBI double, call stands

In the sixth, Polanco saved one run -- unleashing a strong throw from right field to the plate, where Francisco Cervelli tagged out Manny Pina -- and drove in another. He hit a popup to left field off Brewers lefty Josh Hader, bringing home Josh Bell, then hustled for second base when the ball slipped under Ryan Braun's glove.

Polanco lined another single off another lefty, Tyler Webb, and scored on Max Moroff's eighth-inning single. Polanco became the Pirates' first left-handed hitter with four hits in a game off southpaws since Chris Duffy on Sept. 7, 2006.

"Awesome," Pirates starter Chad Kuhl said. "Awesome night for him."

In Friday's second-half opener, Polanco heard it from his hometown crowd when he settled for a double on what could have been a triple to center -- and again, louder, for getting picked off by Yadier Molina as he sauntered back to third base. That kind of criticism might have crippled a younger Polanco.

"I'm getting better at that," Polanco said. "After that, you can't do anything. Just move forward and pay attention."

Video: MIL@PIT: Polanco discusses big game, gets an ice bath

There might not be anyone in the Pirates' clubhouse happier than Polanco to see Starling Marte return Tuesday night. They're like brothers, Polanco said, and he expects Marte's return from an 80-game suspension will improve the team's chances of making a run toward a potential potseason spot.

"We are excited," Polanco said. "The kind of player he is, [we are] excited that he's back."

There is little doubt the Pirates are at their best with Marte's speed and athleticism, with a hot-hitting Andrew McCutchen anchoring their lineup and with this version of Polanco rounding out the outfield trio.

"It's been fun watching him roll into July," Hurdle said. "There's a different look in his eye."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gregory Polanco