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Bell: 'I feel like I’m in a good place'

Brault sees improvement; Frazier makes spring debut; Shuck, Kramer each homer
@adamdberry
March 5, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Josh Bell stumbled a little bit after rounding first base in the fifth inning of the Pirates’ 10-4 win against the Orioles on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium. Fortunately, he could jog the rest of the way. “I almost missed first. I can’t lie,” Bell said, smiling.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Josh Bell stumbled a little bit after rounding first base in the fifth inning of the Pirates’ 10-4 win against the Orioles on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium. Fortunately, he could jog the rest of the way.

“I almost missed first. I can’t lie,” Bell said, smiling. “It was one of those things where it’s been a while since I’ve trotted around the bases. I’m not used to willing the ball out. I was kind of talking to the ball a little bit, almost missed first.”

Bell homered in the Pirates’ last game of the 2018 season, so it hasn’t been that long. But his three-run shot off Orioles reliever Mychal Givens was his first of the spring – and, the Bucs hope, the first of many he’ll slug this year.

Bell ripped a high fastball with the wind and out to center field. It was a good sign for the switch-hitting slugger, who committed last September to stick with an approach and focus on driving the ball to left-center field.

“Fuel to the fire to keep working and staying right here,” Bell said.

After hitting 26 homers and posting a .466 slugging percentage during his rookie season, Bell went deep only 12 times and slugged .411 last year. The 26-year-old worked extensively this offseason with hitting consultant Joe DeMarco, and he began forging relationships with new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz.

Bell still has three weeks to get ready for Opening Day, but he is pleased with his work so far this spring.

“It’s just timing now, trying to get my timing down for fastballs in the mid-90s,” Bell said. “I’ve got to get ready for guys coming out of the ‘pen, but I feel like I’m in a good place.”

Game report

Bell’s three-run homer punctuated the Pirates’ five-run fifth inning. Non-roster outfielder JB Shuck hit his second homer of the spring, and Melky Cabrera picked up one of his two hits with an RBI single to center. Bell then homered to chase Givens and give the Bucs a 6-2 lead.

Coming off a rough outing in which he walked four batters, left-hander Steven Brault gave up two runs on five hits and struck out two over three innings. All of the damage came in Brault’s second inning of work, when he allowed two doubles and an RBI single.

“I feel like I made a lot of good strides,” said Brault, who is competing for the fifth spot in the Pirates’ rotation. “That second inning, I got hit around a little bit, but that’s going to happen sometimes. We say this over and over again, broken record: 'When I get ahead of people, I have a much better time. Getting behind people, they can take much better swings.'”

Kevin Kramer homered in the seventh inning, then reliever Michael Feliz allowed two homers. Pittsburgh padded its lead in the ninth, when Will Craig ripped a two-run double to left and scored on Ke’Bryan Hayes’ triple to left-center. Hayes is 6-for-14 with two homers, three doubles, a triple and seven RBIs this spring.

Around the horn

• Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez did not make his scheduled appearance on Tuesday due to an upper respiratory infection. He is day to day.

Adam Frazier made his first Grapefruit League appearance, went 1-for-3 with an RBI double from the leadoff spot and played four innings at second base. Frazier has been staying sharp by facing his teammates in simulated games.

“That was just like being in a game, facing Trevor [Williams], Jameson [Taillon] and Joe [Musgrove] – three of the better guys you’re going to face in the league,” Frazier said. “I got a lot out of that.”

• Looking to make the team as a non-roster invitee, Cabrera started in center field but did not have a chance to make any plays. The last time Cabrera played center in a regular-season game was April 6, 2014. The Pirates don’t have a backup center fielder if Starling Marte needs a day off, so their in-house options for that role on Opening Day include Cabrera and super-utility man Pablo Reyes.

“I want to see if he can go play center field,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We talked about it in the entrance interview, and I’m still not smart enough in this game to tell somebody they can’t do it until I put them out there and give them a chance to do it. We’ll see where it takes us.”

• Catcher Francisco Cervelli will get behind the plate in a game later this week, Hurdle said. The Pirates have been easing Cervelli into action this spring, limiting his in-game work thus far to first base and designated hitter.

Up next

The Pirates will head south to Fort Myers for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. Right-hander Nick Kingham is set to start for Pittsburgh against Boston’s Josh Smith. Also scheduled to pitch for the Bucs are Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Tyler Lyons, Dovydas Neverauskas and Jesus Liranzo. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.