PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates haven't seen much production out of their center fielders in the first two weeks of the 2021 season, but general manager Ben Cherington said the team plans to “give it some time.”
To make matters worse, that average has been carried by Fowler’s five hits. Alford did not record a hit in his first 19 at-bats after beginning his career 3-for-12 with a triple and a homer in five games last season before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery.
Alford knocked that elusive first hit in Thursday's 8-3 loss, a single off Padres starter Chris Paddack in the fifth inning.
It’s also worth noting that Alford has yet to play more than 18 games in a season over his five-year Major League career, and although Fowler saw 69 games in 2018, the former Top 100 prospect per MLB Pipeline hasn’t played at the big league level since then.
“We've got young players out there who are getting a chance to play at the Major League level for the first time with any level of consistency,” Cherington said, “and there's an adjustment period.”
Pittsburgh has other options for center field if the production never kicks in, though Cherington said he’d defer to manager Derek Shelton on day-to-day starting decisions at the position. Bryan Reynolds has played 42 games in center field for the Pirates, though they prefer him in left field. Wilmer Difo has taken reps at center field, including a start there on Tuesday.
The Pirate with the most experience in center field, Brian Goodwin, is at the alternate training site if the need arises, but both Alford and Fowler are out of options, so sending them down and bringing up Goodwin would expose them to waivers.
“I think that'll probably mostly come down to what the total group looks like and what the total alignment is and what makes sense, as far as giving our team the best chance to win on a particular night and getting guys into the lineup,” Cherington said of the center-field decisions.
Here are some other notes off Cherington’s availability on Thursday.
• Jared Oliva has been moved to the alternate training site from Bradenton, Fla., where he and Cole Tucker stayed at the close of Spring Training for “skills development,” as Shelton termed it.
Cherington said that the club felt the two players needed close attention paid to some specific parts of their games -- “particularly on the offensive side” -- and that the best way to give them access to the tools and enhanced observation they needed was to keep them at the complex in Bradenton.
“It’s just case by case,” Cherington said. “Both those guys are important, and we have a long season, and they're both going to have a chance to play a lot of baseball. We want to take advantage of the time we have now to put them in the best possible position to do well.”
Tucker went 4-for-23 with a double, a triple, one walk and six strikeouts in Spring Training, while Oliva, the Pirates’ No. 16 prospect, batted 3-for-25 with a double, a homer, three walks and nine strikeouts.
• Cherington said the Pirates “still have some work to do” to hit the vaccination threshold that would allow for easing the health and safety protocols for the team.
Clubs were informed just before Opening Day that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85% of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. This applies to all players and staff who are considered Tier 1, including those at the alternate site. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
Per Cherington, “a number of players and staff” have received their first shot, though he did not specify the number or vaccine type. He also said there has been a strong vaccination effort in Bradenton.
“We're working hard at it and certainly support people to get vaccinations and hope that as many people as possible take advantage of that,” he said.