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AUBREY BRUCE

The Pittsburgh Pirates have begun their 2017 MLB campaign.

However, during the offseason, I was concerned whether Pittsburgh would be able to fill the void left by the departures of utility man Sean Rodriguez and pitcher Francisco Liriano.

Every MLB squad must have one or two athletes that have the ability to play almost every position except the batboy and mascot.

When the dog days of August begin dogging your everyday position players, someone must be able to come off the bench to relieve them from minor injuries as well as daily aches and pains associated with a 162-game season and that player has to be above average. According to an article posted by Adam Berry of MLB.com, “Alen Hanson will join Phil Gosselin on Pittsburgh’s bench.” Hanson is out of Minor League options, so the Bucs would have risked losing the switch-hitting utility man if they didn’t carry him on the roster—an “irreversible decision,” as manager Clint Hurdle put it.

“We have encouraged and challenged him — he’s got to be a productive one of the 25 that we move forward with,” Hurdle said to reporters Sunday at Boston’s Fenway Park. “It’s a guy that’s been fun to watch at times, then there’s times where you say, wait a minute, the awareness, the consistency—those are things he’s well aware of in the conversations we have about areas he needs to improve.”

Hanson, 24, was thrilled to be included on his first Opening Day roster. He will receive playing time at second, third and in the outfield while coming off the bench to hit and pinch-run. After hearing he’d made it, Hanson immediately called his mother.

“I told her, ‘Hey mom, I made the team.’ She was like, ‘Oh man, that’s awesome. Praise God,’ and we left it there,” Hanson said to reporters through an interpreter. “But then she called me back, and she’s like, ‘Hey, you made the big league team?’ Typical moms. You have to speak in detail for them to grasp it. She’s very excited for me.”

With Sean Rodriguez “stolen” by the Atlanta Braves in late 2016, the Pirates had a serious void to fill entering spring training and the 2017 season. I don’t know whether it is Karma or not but the Braves have lost Rodriguez for most, if not all of the 2017 season due to injury.

Jeff Todd of mlbtraderumors.com wrote on Feb. 15 that, “Braves infielder Sean Rodriguez underwent a procedure to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder, per a club announcement. Though the team did not provide a timetable, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets it’s likely Rodriguez will miss the entire 2017 campaign after suffering what MLB.com’s Mark Bowman describes via Twitter as a complete tear.  Rodriguez, 31, suffered the injury when he and his family endured a terrifying auto accident that left the driver of another vehicle dead. He had signed on with the Atlanta organization on a two-year deal that promised him $11 million.”

The Braves must be crying in their beer because Atlanta invested a “chunk of cheese” into a utility player just attempting to put their dismal 2016 season behind them and also because Rodriguez is 31 years old and overcoming any injury can be challenging, but recovering from a torn rotator cuff for an athlete in any sport can be very difficult. The Pirates replaced a proven 31-year-old player, now possibly out for the season, with an unproven 24-year-old that they will need during their stretch run for a NL Central Division run, if such a possibility even exists. The Bucs have two above- average starting pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but three other starters are going to have to step up and become the “lights at the end of the 2017 tunnel” for the Pittsburgh Pirates if they are going to be successful this year.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741. Follow him on Twitter@ultrascribe.)

 

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