PITTSBURGH -- Not long after Josh Bell's two-run home run cleared the right-field seats and splashed into the Allegheny River, Pirates broadcaster Joe Block proclaimed Bell’s prodigious blast to be “Stargell-ian.”
Indeed, Pops would have been proud of Pittsburgh’s first baseman on Wednesday afternoon.
Bell’s game-tying homer and the offensive outburst it sparked went to waste as the Pirates’ bullpen imploded in a 9-6 loss to the Rangers at PNC Park, but that didn’t detract from anyone’s appreciation for Bell’s feat of strength or what the 26-year-old is accomplishing this season.
“It’s incredible. I’m so glad he’s on our team,” right-hander Nick Kingham said. “You see [Christian] Yelich and [Cody] Bellinger and all those people that are doing incredible streaks and hitting the ball like crazy? Watch out for this guy. Seriously, he’s doing incredible things. He’s barreling the ball every time he swings the bat. It’s really fun to watch.”
Facing Rangers starter Shelby Miller with one out in the fourth inning, Bell launched a 92.9 mph fastball over the right-field seats directly into the river. His 472-foot blast is the fifth-longest home run in PNC Park history; he also has the fourth spot on the list with his 474-foot homer over the batter’s eye in center field on April 7.
Bell became the fourth player in PNC Park history -- the third Pirates player -- to reach the Allegheny River on the fly. The small group: Daryle Ward (July 6, 2002), Garrett Jones (June 2, 2013), Pedro Alvarez (May 19, 2015) and now Bell.
Wednesday's shot was the Pirates’ third-longest home run since Statcast began tracking batted balls. The ball came off Bell’s bat at 114.9 mph, the Pirates’ third-hardest home run since Statcast. It was the 50th time a ball has reached the Allegheny River since PNC Park opened in 2001; Bell has now swatted three of them, with the previous two bouncing in.
“I never really thought about getting it in the air, but I knew if I connected that way it was a possibility,” Bell said. “It’s awesome to finally have done that.”
Bell has hit nine home runs this season, only three shy of his 2018 total. Last year, Bell didn’t hit his ninth home run until Sept. 7. The power surge is even more impressive because Bell is also hitting for a higher average while increasing his on-base percentage and playing improved defense.
“That’s the biggest part of the game: confidence,” Bell said. “Being able to bounce back after bad ABs, continue to trust the work that I’m doing and hopefully making those downward parts of the roller coaster a little bit less steep.”
What else has changed?
“Consistency of his approach, I think, more than anything. He hasn’t wavered,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It hasn’t changed lanes after something, one way or the other. I think he found something last September that played out well for him, that gave him some confidence going into the winter and into Spring Training. He was able to stay steadfast in what he wanted to do, and it’s playing out for him through the first part of the season.”
Bell also credited his work with new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz. His timing is in a good place. He’s squaring up the balls he should hit instead of fouling them off. In the second inning, before the home run everyone will remember, he lined a low-and-away, 78.5 mph curveball to the North Side Notch in left-center field for a double.
“I’m just trying to focus on barreling the ball. I’m not trying to do anything more than that,” Bell said. “If I put my ‘A’ swing on it, the ball will go.”
On Wednesday, he showed just how far it can go.