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#ASGWorthy J-Hay takes licking, keeps ticking

Pirates infielder plunked for MLB-leading 16th time after hitting double, homer
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Looking for a snapshot of Josh Harrison's contributions to the Pirates' lineup over the first three months of the season? Check out the highlights from the Bucs' 7-3 win over the Cardinals on Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

There was the first-inning double and run scored. There was the fifth-inning home run. There was even the obligatory hit-by-pitch in the sixth inning, because no record of Harrison's season is truly complete without mentioning the beating his body has taken in the batter's box.

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ST. LOUIS -- Looking for a snapshot of Josh Harrison's contributions to the Pirates' lineup over the first three months of the season? Check out the highlights from the Bucs' 7-3 win over the Cardinals on Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

There was the first-inning double and run scored. There was the fifth-inning home run. There was even the obligatory hit-by-pitch in the sixth inning, because no record of Harrison's season is truly complete without mentioning the beating his body has taken in the batter's box.

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Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Harrison and other #ASGWorthy players

"There's only been a few this year that haven't hurt," Harrison said after being plunked for the Major League-leading 16th time. "What I like to say is it probably would have killed a common man."

Video: PIT@STL: Harrison gets plunked with the bases loaded

Amid this inconsistent season for the Pirates, full of slumps and surges on both sides of the ball, Harrison has been uncommonly consistent. He leads the Pirates with an .837 OPS, and he has been Pittsburgh's most valuable player this year, according to FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement.

"He has been really good from the start until now. We have seen him play with this level of energy before," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He just gets in that rhythm and that groove, and he creates a wake.

"He's swinging the bat well, playing solid defense. The energy's contagious. ... He's playing really good baseball. He's been a fun player to watch."

But this week has not been particularly fun for Harrison. From Sunday through Friday, he was hit by more pitches (four) than he hit (three). He was still working walks (three), but the way on base was more painful than preferable -- and his body let him know.

"It's hanging in there," Harrison said. "It's been better."

Harrison stuck to his approach, however, looking for pitches over the plate rather than fearing the ones bound for his back or legs. On Saturday, he pulled a double into the left-field corner in the first inning and scored on Josh Bell's single up the middle.

Video: PIT@STL: Bell opens scoring with an RBI single in 1st

In his third at-bat against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, Harrison lined a cutter just over the left-field fence. It was Harrison's ninth homer of the season, putting him on pace to easily surpass the career-high mark of 13 he set in his All-Star 2014 campaign.

All season, Harrison has attributed his success -- particularly his power -- to good health. He was held back last year by an injury sustained the previous summer. In July 2015, Harrison tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb and underwent surgery.

He hurried back to help the Pirates down the stretch, but he felt the lingering effects of the injury for more than a year. It ached in the cold, stung when pitches missed his barrel and generally bothered him for much of last year.

Now?

"Healthy," Harrison said. "Just being able to get my swing off the way that I want to repeatedly.

"Knowing that I'm healthy now and that I can get my swing off the way that I want to, being selective is another thing. I can take certain pitches, where last year, I was like, 'I've got to swing because that might be the only pitch I can make decent contact on.' It's allowed me to take a step back and know that the pitcher's still got to make pitches."

It has also allowed Harrison to contribute in ways he often couldn't last season, and it all played out Saturday night at Busch Stadium: hustle, homers and HBPs.

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, Josh Harrison