CHICAGO -- The Pirates have pulled first baseman Josh Bell out of the cleanup spot in an effort to get the slumping switch-hitter back on track at the plate.After an outstanding rookie season, Bell exited Saturday's 2-0 loss at Wrigley Field with a .233/.307/.366 slash line, four home runs and
CHICAGO -- The Pirates have pulled first baseman Josh Bell out of the cleanup spot in an effort to get the slumping switch-hitter back on track at the plate.
After an outstanding rookie season, Bell exited Saturday's 2-0 loss at Wrigley Field with a .233/.307/.366 slash line, four home runs and 34 RBIs in a team-leading 257 plate appearances. Bell put together a solid month of May, posting an .845 OPS, but he has recorded only one hit in his first 22 at-bats this month.
Bell is dropping down to the sixth spot in the order, where he started Saturday against Cubs left-hander Jonathan Lester and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout. The Pirates have found success moving down hitters in the past, including Andrew McCutchen last year. Manager Clint Hurdle discussed the decision with Bell on Friday and again on Saturday.
"It's just part of the routine. Maybe he can watch a couple more guys hit before he goes up," Hurdle said. "Maybe it postures him in a different part where he doesn't feel the pressure of hitting cleanup for a while. And the guys that have been getting on base and him not being able to drive them in, now it's a different dynamic."
Francisco Cervelli hit cleanup on Saturday. Hurdle said the spot will be a "work in progress" going forward.
Bell recently said he felt his swing is "disconnected" because his upper body hasn't been synced up with his legs. Hurdle said any slumping hitter should focus first on pitch selection. Bell is making less contact in the strike zone this season and chasing more pitches outside the zone, according to Statcast™.
"He's still going to hit. He's going to hit two batters later," Hurdle said. "He may hit with more men on base in this position. He may hit with less men on base in this position. I don't know, but it's something different. We've rearranged the living room furniture. … He's got to find a different way across the room. That's all."
Bell's fly-ball rate has increased this season, according to Statcast™, but his line-drive rate has declined from 22.5 percent to 18.3 percent as of Saturday morning. He may also be adversely affected by defensive shifts.
When Bell bats left-handed, opponents are shifting against him 25.4 percent of the time, according to Statcast™, up from 2.6 percent last season. His wOBA as a lefty against non-shifted defenses this season is roughly the same as last year -- .335 compared to .336 -- but his wOBA against the shift is .178, down from .246 last year.
Around the horn
• Right-hander Ivan Nova will come off the disabled list and start Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Nova has been sidelined since May 24 due to a sprained right ring finger, which may have played a part in his struggles as he posted a 7.61 ERA last month.
The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move before Sunday's game, Hurdle said.
• Second baseman Josh Harrison was away from the team on Saturday to attend to a personal matter, Hurdle said. Playing short-handed, the Bucs slotted shortstop Jordy Mercer into the leadoff spot and started Sean Rodriguez at second base.
• Reliever Richard Rodriguez said his right shoulder inflammation is "nothing severe." Rodriguez said he felt tightness in his shoulder while stretching after his appearance on Wednesday, and a team doctor identified the inflammation before he went on the disabled list Friday.
"I'll be able to bounce back quickly," Rodriguez said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "It was just a little bit of inflammation."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.