First impressions: Bucs' Freese plan in place

Veteran homers in first start at leadoff spot since 2010, while making second career start at 1B

May 11th, 2016

CINCINNATI -- For most of the first month of the season, David Freese played third base and batted third. That was the first part of the Pirates' plan for him, but it was bound to change when Jung Ho Kang returned from a lengthy recovery following left knee surgery.

On Tuesday afternoon, the second half of their plan came into clearer focus. On Wednesday, they actually had a chance to put it into practice.

Freese found his name atop the Bucs' lineup card, playing first base, before the Pirates' postponed game against the Reds on Tuesday. Both clubs pushed back their scheduled starting pitchers, so Freese remained at first, batting first, on Wednesday, and he promptly homered in his third at-bat during the Pirates' 5-4 win. He finished 1-for-4.

It was Freese's second career start at first base, his first since July 2, 2011, and his first start in the leadoff spot since June 12, 2010.

"I'm excited to get over there," said Freese, a third baseman by trade. "I've worked on it a good bit since I got here in the spring. It's good to get this first one in."

The night the Pirates signed Freese in March, general manager Neal Huntington said he would be John Jaso's right-handed platoon partner following Kang's return while also making occasional starts at third base to spell Kang.

Freese spent the offseason in St. Louis, working out indoors at third base. As soon as he signed with the Pirates, he began putting in work at first as well.

"I think it's about your footwork [and] preparation mentally to be ready every pitch like you should," Freese said. "It's a long year, but every pitch, be ready."

Oddly enough, Freese wound up playing second base -- for four innings -- before he got a start at first base.

"That's pretty wild," Freese said, laughing. "Playing second was cool. I'd like to get out there again. I don't know if the pitcher would like that with my range.

"With where my career is, being able to go over to first, progress at that and show I can play both corners, it'll help."

Manager Clint Hurdle consulted his coaches and quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald about how to write out a lineup with Freese filling in for Jaso against Cincinnati right-hander Alfredo Simon.

Gregory Polanco batted third the previous four games, and it appears that will be his spot for the foreseeable future. Comfortable with how his hitters have been arranged, Hurdle didn't want to overhaul the whole lineup, so they simply plugged Freese into Jaso's spot.

"For whatever reason, the metrics and my lineup matched up," Hurdle said. "It's just time to get him at first, get him in that rotation."