PITTSBURGH -- Jason Martin was watching the Pirates’ game on Saturday, his 25th birthday, when he saw Anthony Alford crash into the center-field wall and walk off the field with head athletic trainer Bryan Housand.
A few hours later, Martin got the call. On Sunday morning, he was at PNC Park.
The Pirates recalled Martin from their alternate training site when they put Alford on the 45-day injured list with a fractured right elbow. Martin, who played only two games after two callups earlier this season, will provide depth in the outfield the rest of the year. He’s spent most of his time in center field, but he’s capable of playing left and right field as well.
“It’s definitely been a different year, just being able to go down to Altoona and work on my craft and just stay ready for the opportunities like this,” Martin said. “It’s been different, but [I've] been able to get through it.”
The Pirates have done what they can to keep players ready for chances like this despite their limited roster at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, Pa. They’ve been staging intrasquad games nearly every day, sometimes placing a high-velocity pitching machine on the mound if they’re out of available arms. Martin said they've faced live pitching most every day in Altoona, even if just for one inning rather than five or six.
The coaching staff in Altoona, led by Triple-A manager Brian Esposito, has also worked to keep players prepared for the Majors. Coaches have been running through the scouting report of whatever team the Pirates are playing at the time. So in Altoona, the Pirates’ depth options and prospects practiced this weekend like they were playing the Reds.
“For opportunities like this, it’s been great being able to get the preparation that we need, especially in each individual series with their lineups and their pitchers,” Martin said. “We’re going over scouting reports and stuff like that to be ready for this opportunity.”
While Martin will be available to fill in, it seems like center field will be Cole Tucker’s job for the rest of the season. Tucker, a converted shortstop, is still doing some pregame work in the infield on days he’s not starting in the outfield, and manager Derek Shelton said the Pirates still view Tucker as a player who can field multiple positions.
"The big thing is going to be reads and breaks,” Shelton said. “For any infielder that goes to the outfield, that will be the biggest transition, in terms of how he breaks off the ball.”
Around the horn
• In his third appearance since coming off the 10-day injured list, reliever Kyle Crick struck out one batter and walked one while throwing 17 pitches in the ninth inning of the Pirates’ 6-2 loss to the Reds on Saturday night. Crick’s fastball averaged just 91 mph, down from 95.3 mph last year, but the average spin rate on his slider was roughly in line with his career norms.
“I believe his velocity is going to come back. We just have to keep getting him out there,” Shelton said. “I actually thought [that] last night, the ball came out of his hand better. I know it was more consistently at 91, but I thought he spun the ball better. I thought the ball came out better. It was a really encouraging sign, and last night he pitched some really good sliders -- probably as good of sliders as we've seen all year.”
• On his weekly KDKA-FM radio show with broadcaster Greg Brown, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said the club is preparing to “wind down” its alternate training site camp on Sept. 18. At that point, Cherington said, a group of players from the Altoona camp will join the Pirates in Pittsburgh as a kind of “permanent taxi squad.” Those players will likely be Major League-ready depth options, not younger prospects.
While details are still being finalized, another group of younger players is expected to report to the club’s Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., for some type of instructional league activity. They would be joined by young prospects who aren’t currently part of the club’s 60-man player pool, ideally enough so they can play intrasquad games on the back fields of Pirate City.
If possible, Cherington said, the Pirates would also like to put together some sort of player development program at their complex in the Dominican Republic.
• Cherington revealed that right-hander Jandel Gustave, who was added to the team’s player pool and sent to Altoona earlier this week, signed a Minor League contract that runs through 2021.
• Discussing the Trade Deadline activity throughout baseball, Cherington noted on KDKA-FM that “the days of top 50 prospects being traded around seem to be over,” with teams more reluctant than ever to deal away their best prospects. What does that mean for a team like the Pirates as they try to inject talent into their farm system?
“We need to do an even better job identifying player value that’s not so obvious, maybe guys that are not in the industry top 100 or in teams’ top 10s,” Cherington said on KDKA-FM.