Notes: Osuna aided by DH; '21 schedule out

July 10th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates won’t have anybody serve as their full-time designated hitter this season, but there is one player who stands to benefit more than most from having a DH in the lineup.

has mostly been a bench bat for Pittsburgh each of the last three years, never playing more than 104 games and never recording more than 285 plate appearances in a season. He has started 122 games in the Majors and entered as a substitute in 128. But now, the Pirates will have an extra spot in the order every night for a hitter like him.

"It feels good; I think that's gonna be one more opportunity to be in the lineup almost every day,” Osuna said. “There'll be more chances to play. That's good for me, and that's good for my teammates."

The Pirates plan to rotate players through the DH spot this season, as manager Derek Shelton has often said. That could mean first baseman Josh Bell gets a day off his feet but stays in the lineup. Third baseman Colin Moran and right fielder Gregory Polanco could get the same treatment. Just about all of Pittsburgh’s everyday position players could, in fact.

In that regard, Osuna’s versatility should help. He can back up Bell, Moran or Polanco. He can also slot into the lineup as the DH, depending on which pitcher the Pirates are facing.

"[Osuna gives us] a ton of versatility there. Can play on both corners in the infield, can play in both corners in the outfield. Did a nice job last year off the bench, so there's definitely an opportunity,” Shelton said. “I think he's a guy that we've talked about how we rotate through that DH spot. You'll see him at the DH spot at times, depending on the matchups we want to use. Anytime we can add guys to our club that have that much versatility, it's a really good thing for us.”

Osuna put together a league-average 100 OPS+ with 10 homers, 20 doubles and 36 RBIs last season. He offers power for a team that hit only 163 homers last year, fourth fewest in the Majors.

Osuna found a niche coming off the bench in 2019 after veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera and former assistant hitting coach Jacob Cruz helped him establish a routine as a part-time player, one involving reps against Cruz in the batting cage instead of just hitting off a pitching machine.

Osuna thrived in that role, going 10-for-29 with five homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs as a pinch-hitter. Having that plan in place could help Osuna if he has to spend any time as Pittsburgh’s DH this year.

Camp notes
• Third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes has not yet taken part in any of the Pirates’ Summer Camp workouts, Shelton confirmed on Thursday. Shelton did not provide an explanation. Every player who was expected to be active in camp is in Pittsburgh.

• Outfielder Socrates Brito, who tested positive for COVID-19, and Hayes were the only position players absent as the Pirates took the field for team defensive drills on Thursday afternoon.

Moran and Phillip Evans lined up at third base; Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker at shortstop; Adam Frazier at second base; Bell and Jose Osuna at first base; Jacob Stallings, Luke Maile and John Ryan Murphy behind the plate; and Bryan Reynolds, Jarrod Dyson, Polanco and Guillermo Heredia in the outfield. JT Riddle and Erik Gonzalez moved between second base and shortstop.

• The Pirates were planning to play their first intrasquad game Thursday night, but the game was rained out. Right-hander Trevor Williams, who was scheduled to pitch for Team Black, will now pitch in an intrasquad game Friday along with relievers Michael Feliz, Richard Rodriguez and Dovydas Neverauskas. Shelton, who has been waiting since November for his Pirates managerial debut, took the delay in good spirits.

“I can’t even manage an intrasquad,” Shelton said, smiling. “I can’t even get an intrasquad game in.”

• Left-hander Steven Brault revealed on Tuesday that he and righty Chad Kuhl might function as piggyback starters to begin the season, and there’s at least one more candidate for that role: right-hander Chris Stratton.

Stratton leaned on a high-spin fastball with the Pirates last season as he put together a 3.66 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings over 28 relief appearances. But he started for the Giants and Angels earlier in his career, so he makes sense as another tandem-starter option for Pittsburgh.

“I think I’ve said the word ‘creative’ about 148 million times during our Zooms, and you guys just assumed who the people are going to be,” Shelton said, smiling. “Yeah, we’re going to get creative with that spot. [Stratton is] a guy that could jump into it with some other guys.”

2021 schedule announced
With Opening Day for the 2020 season still two weeks away, Major League Baseball on Thursday unveiled the schedule for the 2021 regular season.

The Pirates will begin next season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 1 -- their 22nd season opener against the Cubs and their first in Chicago since 2011. It will be the fifth straight season Pittsburgh has opened on the road. The Bucs will also face the Cubs in their home opener at PNC Park on April 8.

This season’s 60-game schedule has the Pirates facing only teams from the National League Central and the AL Central, and they will see the AL Central in Interleague Play again next year as well.

The Bucs are scheduled to end the 2021 season with a six-game homestand against the Cubs (Sept. 28-30) and Reds (Oct. 1-3).