Pirates infielder Josh Harrison is off the disabled list and back on the active roster after missing the past six weeks with a torn thumb ligament.
Before the injury Harrison was having a rough season, following up last year’s All-Star campaign by hitting just .279 with four homers and a .696 OPS that represents a 141-point drop from 2014. He went just 1-for-19 on a minor-league rehab assignment, but was able to convince the Pirates that he’s ready to play.
His return to the lineup at third base likely means July trade pickup and career-long third baseman Aramis Ramirez will regularly shift across the diamond to first base, cutting into Pedro Alvarez’s playing time significantly. Harrison may also see some time at second base in place of Neil Walker.
Some reinforcements are on the way for the Wild Card-leading Pirates, as manager Clint Hurdle told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this afternoon that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer could return from the disabled list for this weekend’s series against the Giants.
Harrison, who has been out since since July 5 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, is 1-for-19 (.053) over his first five minor league rehab games with Triple-A Indianapolis. Mercer, out since July 19 with a MCL sprain in his left knee and a leg contusion, is 3-for-17 (.176) through five games.
The Pirates are going to have a bit of a log jam when Harrison and Mercer return, as Aramis Ramirez and Jung Ho Kang have held down the left side of the infield of late. But it’s nice to have options. Harrison can also play the outfield if need be.
The Pirates enter play tonight at 71-47, four games in front of the Cubs for the first Wild Card spot and five games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central.
The Tigers are trying to keep as much of the front office as it was under Dave Dombrowski, but there are some minor changes afoot. Here’s one: former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has been promoted to vice president of player development.
Littlefield has been scouting for the past five years, this one for Detroit, the previous four for the Chicago Cubs. Earlier in his career he worked for the Tigers for a spell and was a Dombrowski protege, working in Montreal and Miami. He was, of course, more famously the GM of the Pirates for six seasons during which the club went a combined 421-549 (.434).
His time in Pittsburgh can be somewhat hard to assess in that a lot of the moves he was infamous for making likely were directed by an ownership who routinely looked to cut costs, but a lot of GMs have done just fine under such constraints. Littlefield? Eh, not so much. As a review of his tenure reminds us, he traded away Aramis Ramirez in a bad deal. He once was offered a young Ryan Howard in exchange for Kris Benson and nixed the idea. He did end up getting Jose Bautista for Benson, but that was before he was JOSE BAUTISTA. He signed a lot of guys like Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Raul Mondesi and Benito Santiago, Actually, it was worse: he didn’t sign guys like them, he signed those actual guys.
Which, no probably isn’t that important to his job in Detroit as he’s likely going to just have an enhanced role in scouting while Al Avila calls the shots. But it’s always fun to take a walk down memory lane when an old friend resurfaces, as many past GMs have lately. I mean, in a world where John Hart goes from unemployed ex-GM to part time TV analyst to the architect of a rebuild in the space of a couple of years, anything can happen.
Pirates closer Mark Melancon has been pretty good this season. Great, in fact. He entered play Friday having strung together 21 consecutive scoreless appearances and hadn’t allowed an earned run since May 11. As a result, he was 32-for-33 in save situations with a 1.32 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.
Melancon’s streak was in danger of ending on Friday night against the Reds. Staked to a one run lead, he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, but immediately served up a leadoff single to Brandon Phillips. Jason Bourgeois laid down a bunt to move Phillips into scoring position. The red-hot Joey Votto drew a walk, putting the potential winning run on first base and bringing 2015 Home Run Derby champion Todd Frazier to the plate.
Frazier ripped a single past a diving Aramis Ramirez into left field. Marte fired a strong one-hopper to catcher Francisco Cervelli, who easily applied the tag to Phillips for the second out of the inning. Votto, now the potential tying run, stood on second base as Marlon Byrd stepped to the plate.
Byrd lined a 3-2 breaking ball towards Marte in left field. Marte ranged to his right and dove, snagging the sinking liner just before it could make contact with the grass at Great American Ballpark. On consecutive plays, Marte’s defense allowed the Pirates to walk away 5-4 winners and he kept Melancon’s scoreless streak alive.
It looks like Marte might’ve dinged up his wrist in making the catch. Hopefully it’s nothing a nice steak dinner — on Melancon’s tab — can’t help heal.