Polanco stays positive through growing pains
After bursting onto scene as a rookie, outfielder adjusting through struggles
PITTSBURGH -- At the plate with two outs in the eighth inning Wednesday at PNC Park, Gregory Polanco's powerful, looping left-handed swing connected with an 84 mph slider from Marlins reliever Vin Mazzaro and sent the ball crashing high off the Clemente Wall in right field.
After jogging toward first, Polanco broke into a long-striding sprint and sailed into third base for an easy standup triple -- the first of his career.
It was a glimpse of the player who tore through the Minor Leagues in 2013 and '14, the same one who burst on to the Major League scene last June with an 11-game hitting streak.
It was the same Polanco the Pirates would like to see on a more consistent basis.
"That's where my focus is right now," Polanco said. "Just trying to be me and do what I can do and not try to do too much."
Polanco, a highly touted prospect, has spent almost a full year in the Majors. In 132 big league games, he's hit .237 with a .649 OPS. So far, Polanco's production hasn't matched his track record or ability.
"He obviously had the tremendous start," Bucs general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday. "The league adjusted. And he's working to make that adjustment back. Much like we saw with [Josh Harrison] early in the year, [Polanco] is trying to justify [his place in the lineup] and trying to push a little bit too hard, trying to do too much and showing his youth, showing his inexperience.
"Our [coaches] are working hard to get him back to just trusting his abilities, because he has the ability to play up here."
Polanco's greatest issue in the Majors has been his performance against left-handed pitching, leading to a .173 average and .452 OPS.
Huntington pointed out that Polanco did well against southpaws in the Minors but has since "abandoned" the approach that made him successful.
Part of the reason for Polanco's struggles vs. lefties, manager Clint Hurdle explained, is that the young outfielder is simply facing better southpaws in Pittsburgh than he did at Triple-A Indianapolis or Double-A Altoona. Huntington said Polanco's approach should still translate to success at the plate, no matter the caliber of pitching he's facing.
"I know I'm going to be as I've always been. In the Minor Leagues, I hit the good lefties," Polanco said. "I'm going to get it. I just have to keep working at it every day and trust what I'm working on."
That attitude helped Polanco crush big league pitching around this time a year ago. The Pirates don't necessarily expect the same results he produced in those first two outstanding weeks, but they believe the approach he employed then can help him hold his own now.
"It's not rocket science," Huntington said. "We've just got to get the young man back to doing what he was doing when he was successful."