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Hurdle: Bucs need consistency from Polanco

Pirates outfielder gets 'breather' to work out of slump
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Gregory Polanco laid out to make a pair of outstanding defensive plays on Friday night, but the right fielder still hasn't hit his stride offensively. Hoping to get Polanco back on track, the Pirates held him out of the starting lineup for Sunday's 8-4 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Polanco did pinch-hit in the seventh inning and grounded out in his only at-bat.

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ST. LOUIS -- Gregory Polanco laid out to make a pair of outstanding defensive plays on Friday night, but the right fielder still hasn't hit his stride offensively. Hoping to get Polanco back on track, the Pirates held him out of the starting lineup for Sunday's 8-4 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Polanco did pinch-hit in the seventh inning and grounded out in his only at-bat.

View Full Game Coverage

After going 0-for-5 in Saturday's 7-3 win and entering Sunday, Polanco was slashing .188/.235/.275 in 19 games this month. With the season nearly halfway over, Polanco is batting just .242 with a .674 OPS. It has been a step backward from last year, his best offensive campaign in the Major Leagues.

"At the end of the day, the numbers are what they are at this point in time of the season. We know there's a better hitter in there, and we've seen it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "But we haven't seen it for a consistent, long period of time. We've seen it for maybe 10 days. We're just going to try to help him on his way."

Aside from that 10-game stretch in early May, Polanco has struggled to put together any consistent production at the plate. He has been hampered by injuries since the start of the season -- a sore shoulder in April, a left hamstring strain that sent him to the disabled list in early May and a sprained ankle at the end of May.

Polanco's swing appeared to be "disconnected" on Friday and Saturday, Hurdle said, so the club decided to sit him Sunday even with a scheduled off-day Monday. John Jaso started in right field, batting third.

"We gave him [Wednesday] off in Milwaukee and we thought we had something headed back in a better fashion," Hurdle said. "Maybe we can give him a breather here and a breather tomorrow, work on some things. We've got some ideas -- a couple little mechanical things to get with him on and see if we can get him ignited."

Polanco's strikeout rate is down to 14.8 percent this season, a career-low mark, but he is making less hard contact than in years past. According to Statcast™, Polanco's average exit velocity this season is 86 mph -- down from 89.6 mph last season and 89 mph in 2015.

"Right now, want him to clean the slate and be athletic in the box. Maintain head position when he sees the ball and hits the ball," Hurdle said. "There's a lot of barrel in and out of the zone, and the head is in and out of the zone. When he's been able to maintain head position, the barrel stays on a better path and a cleaner path and more damage has been done."

Around the horn

• On the final day of his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, reliever Antonio Bastardo started Sunday against Louisville. He recorded only two outs while throwing 36 pitches and allowing an unearned run on a hit, a walk and a hit batter.

The Pirates will decide what to do next with Bastardo when he is reinstated before Tuesday's series opener against the Rays at PNC Park.

• Triple-A outfielder Austin Meadows, the Pirates' top prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, remains on the seven-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain. Speaking with broadcaster Greg Brown on general manager Neal Huntington's weekly KDKA-FM radio show, assistant GM Kevan Graves said the Pirates are not "overly concerned" about Meadows' injury.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gregory Polanco