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Now healthy, Polanco ready to resume rise

Bucs outfielder: Staying injury-free 'is everything to me'
Special to MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- If Gregory Polanco needs to help carry his Pirates teammates this season, he should have fresh enough legs to do it.

The outfielder arrived to Pirate City in Bradenton on Saturday feeling healthy and "more motivated than he's been, ever."

BRADENTON, Fla. -- If Gregory Polanco needs to help carry his Pirates teammates this season, he should have fresh enough legs to do it.

The outfielder arrived to Pirate City in Bradenton on Saturday feeling healthy and "more motivated than he's been, ever."

Around this time last year, Polanco was dealing with a shoulder injury that would set the tone for the rest of the season. A lingering hamstring issue would land him on the DL on three separate occasions, and there were also ankle and groin injuries. Polanco played only 108 games in 2017, batting .251 with just 11 home runs and 35 RBIs. The 26-year-old knew that he was going to have to be fully healthy to resume his ascendance to the upper tier of outfielders.

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"It was everything for me, and that was my plan going into the season," Polanco said. "I went into the offseason like, 'I need to get my body ready.' I needed to get my core and my back and my lower body stronger and in playing shape."

To do that, the Dominican Republic native teamed up with his former personal trainer Kelvin Terrero in Santo Domingo. They started in October, and Polanco continued with the workouts until the week before reporting to the Pirates' Spring Training home. After focusing on primarily building mass through weight training last offseason, Polanco got back to enhancing his overall athleticism with unconventional workouts in the botanical parks and on the beaches of the Dominican, which he often shared on his Instagram account.

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Along with an improved training regimen and monitoring through the team, Polanco gained lean muscle while shedding an extra seven or eight pounds of body fat.

"I feel quicker. I feel like I can be me," Polanco said. "I can't wait to get back into the season, start Spring Training."

The "me" that Polanco wants to be again is the five-tool athlete who appeared to be putting things together after the 2016 season. He set career highs in average (.258) home runs (22) and RBIs (86) while still maintaining his production on the basepaths (17 stolen bases in 23 attempts) and playing a strong corner outfield.

"In that first half of 2016, he was strong," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's done some nice things. He's put together some packages of time and bundled some at-bats, and he did it with a couple of short spurts last year. When we were making a kick late in the season, he was one of the reasons we were. The injuries limited his athleticism, limited, I believe, the dynamics of his swing. There's more in the tank. There's a really good player in there that we believe we can help get out there on a consistent basis."

Video: SD@PIT: Statcast™ tracks Polanco's 434-ft. go-ahead HR

If healthy, Polanco will be asked to fill some of the void left by the departure of his friend and fellow outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who was traded to the Giants in January. Polanco said he didn't feel added pressure, at least from an offensive standpoint.

"I'm just going to go out there and be me," he said. "I'm focused on doing my 100 percent every day. Don't feel any pressure. Don't feel anything. I've been there before so now it is go there and play every day."

Hurdle did say that Polanco will not be asked to fill McCutchen's spot in center field and that he'll be used exclusively in right field this season. Polanco saw time in all three outfield spots over the past few seasons, but he said that he wanted to spend the rest of his career with Pittsburgh in right field.

"It made all the sense in the world, analytically, but when you add the human analytics to it, it doesn't work out as well," Hurdle said. "With Polanco in left field, I just don't think he was comfortable, so we are going to run him back over to right field, plant him there and give him every opportunity to be the best right fielder he has ever been."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gregory Polanco