PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco was in the Pirates' indoor batting cage around the fourth inning of Wednesday night's game. He wasn't in the starting lineup, so his scheduled work day involved implementing a minor change the coaching staff recommended earlier in the day.Manager Clint Hurdle, hitting coach Jeff Branson and
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco was in the Pirates' indoor batting cage around the fourth inning of Wednesday night's game. He wasn't in the starting lineup, so his scheduled work day involved implementing a minor change the coaching staff recommended earlier in the day.
Manager Clint Hurdle, hitting coach Jeff Branson and assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey met with Polanco and advised that he set up a little further away from the plate. Beaten up by inside pitches for the better part of two months, Polanco worried that moving back in the batter's box would keep him from reaching pitches on the outer half of the plate, but he followed his coaches' guidance.
Polanco immediately noticed the difference, as he sprayed line drives around the ballpark in batting practice. His in-cage work continued to pay off during the game. But the Pirates' high-scoring, back-and-forth 11-9 win over the Dodgers forced Polanco into action as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.
"It was really quick," Polanco said. "Two innings before, I was in the cage working."
Polanco ripped an inside 94.2-mph fastball from right-hander Yimi Garcia to right field for a two-run double -- those wound up being the winning runs in the victory -- before he was thrown out trying to take third base. Polanco was pleased to see his pregame work pay off that quickly on an inside pitch.
"You see everybody's pitching me inside. You see my arms," the long-limbed right fielder said. "I feel comfortable. I'm going to keep working on that and see how it goes. I felt comfortable in that at-bat. I've got to keep it working. There's still a lot of games left."
After a hot start, Polanco has cooled off dramatically, hitting .196 with a .634 OPS from April 13 through Wednesday night. His contact rate within the strike zone dropped from 91.8 percent last year to 85.3 percent this season, according to Fangraphs. The Pirates also noticed Polanco fouling off and mishitting pitches in the zone that he should have been able to barrel up, Hurdle said.
The problem, the coaching staff decided, stemmed from pitchers consistently jamming Polanco inside. That kept him from extending his long arms to make solid contact. They hope a slight step back in the box will lead to another step forward at the plate.
"That's when I drive the ball, when I extend my arms," Polanco said. "I felt a lot better in practice. I haven't been feeling like that in a long time.
"It's a process, just feeling better every day. I trust it. These two first months have been rough on me, but I've got to keep fighting."
Around the horn
• Right-hander Ivan Nova (sprained right ring finger) threw a bullpen session on Thursday morning. The Pirates have not yet finalized a plan for Nova's next outing, but if all goes well, he should be in line to come off the disabled list and rejoin Pittsburgh's rotation later this weekend.
• Shortstop Jordy Mercer (flu-like symptoms) returned to the lineup on Thursday after sitting out the past two games.
• Left-hander Enny Romero (shoulder impingement) threw live batting practice on Tuesday in Bradenton, Fla., director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said. Right-hander A.J. Schugel (shoulder discomfort) is not yet throwing. Rule 5 Draft pick Nick Burdi (Tommy John surgery) is facing hitters.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.