The Pirates spent a good part of the offseason acquiring Major League-ready outfield depth, and the options have done well in camp. But Saturday showed why such measures are pivotal.
Anthony Alford, who is coming off season-ending right elbow surgery last season, was hit by a 91 mph sinker on the same arm from Corey Kluber in the fourth inning of the Pirates' 7-5 loss to the Yankees. The center fielder went down in pain, though he walked off the field soon after but tossed his helmet in frustration. He was replaced by Canaan Smith-Njigba, and the Bucs announced he left the game with right wrist discomfort.
"I think he showed more reaction to pain right there today than he did last year when he broke his elbow," second baseman Adam Frazier said. "But he said he's all right, so hopefully he is and it's just a little bruise and he can get back out there."
It's unclear if this will develop into anything requiring Alford to take time away from game action, but it serves as a reminder of how injuries and issues will pop up throughout the season. Thankfully, the Pirates' outfield depth has shown up swinging and making slick plays in Spring Training.
One of the potential reserve options flashed both sides of the coin on Saturday. Troy Stokes Jr., starting in right field, began his day by robbing Aaron Judge of a hit in the first inning. The slugger ripped a ball 105.6 mph off the bat to a landing spot just short of where Stokes was positioned, but he was able to make the late adjustment to snag the ball.
It's one of a few great diving plays by Stokes, a Minor League Gold Glove Award winner in 2018, so far in Spring Training. He also made an exceptional all-out diving catch on March 3 against the Rays.
"Whenever I'm in the outfield, especially in spring, I'm trying to impress," Stokes said. "I'm actually hoping to get a ball that I can actually take off for."
After robbing Judge, Stokes one-upped him with the bat with a scorching blast to left field in the third inning. The Pirates outfielder came to bat with one out, swung on the first pitch he saw from Kluber and sent it a Statcast-estimated 415 feet. The 109.6 mph exit velocity was the best of the day by any player.
"I didn't want to get to the cutter or the breaking ball," Stokes said, "so it's pretty much [the] first fastball I see in a hittable zone, I'm swinging. So yeah, I put a good swing on that and happened to hit it out."
Stokes, who is now 5-for-15 with two homers, four RBIs and a double, is not on the Pirates' 40-man roster. He was outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis on Jan. 29 after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers, so his contract will need to be purchased to start the season with the team.
But if Alford or another outfielder were to miss action, Stokes is hoping that his performance will give the team confidence to turn to him in a pinch -- or potentially from the get-go.
"Coming into camp, my mindset is to break camp [with the team]," Stokes said. "The outfield is pretty good. Just trying to take it a day at a time."
• Alford wasn't the only Pirate who was removed from the game after being struck by a pitch. Tony Wolters took a slider from Darren O'Day to the left thigh as he swung through it, making for a rare strikeout on a hit by pitch to end the sixth inning, though it won't be counted as the latter. Andrew Susac entered for Wolters at catcher in the bottom of the sixth inning.
• Frazier has already surpassed his hit total from Spring Training in 2020, needing only four games to reach eight hits vs. his seven in 14 games last year.
Frazier has talked about his desire to get off to a quicker start to seasons with his bat, and this trend is encouraging for the Pirates' second baseman. One thing that's helped him do so early on is a conversation with first baseman Colin Moran about tweaking his hand placement.
"He comes in, mentions it to me and I started playing with it, and it's working," Frazier said. "So I am going to stick with it until it doesn't work."
The Pirates will return to LECOM Park to host the Phillies on Sunday, when Steven Brault will continue to stretch out as he competes to be the Opening Day starter. Brault has yet to allow a hit in three Grapefruit League innings, but he's walked four batters while striking out four. Behind him, Pittsburgh plans to send Miguel Yajure, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes, Chasen Shreve, Kyle Crick and Braeden Ogle to the bump. Matt Moore will start for the Phillies, and the action will be broadcast live on MLB.TV and AT&T SportsNet. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.