Slumping Josh Bell is back in the lineup after getting one day and part of a second off.
Bell was in his familiar cleanup spot of the batting order Friday night for the Pirates’ game with the Phillies at PNC Park that opened a three-game series. Bell did not start Wednesday in a loss to the Cardinals at St. Louis, though he did pinch-hit, and the Pirates were off Thursday.
Clint Hurdle hopes the rest helps Bell get out of a slump in which he is 3 for 27 (.111) with 12 strikeouts in his last eight games.
“We talked about what he needs to do moving forward,” Clint Hurdle said Friday. “Sometimes, it can be fatigue and players fatigue in different ways. One way you fatigue is in the arms. The foundation (legs) is important for a hitter but sometimes your hands and arms aren’t in sync with your swing.”
After winning National League Player of the Month honors for May, Bell has hit .218/.311/.500 with nine home runs in 38 games. The 26-year-old was batting .343/.505/.704 with 18 homers in 56 games at the end of May.
Hurdle scoffs at the idea of Bell being a two-month wonder. After all, Bell started at designated hitter for the NL in last week’s All-Star Game in Cleveland.
“People run to a lot of things when things go wrong,” Hurdle said. “He not hitting right now the way he did a month ago. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if Josh stayed in that spot for the rest of his career but that’s a bit much to ask. I think he’s mature enough to know when he’s not on time (with his swing, when he’s feeling good, when he’s getting good pitches to hit and missing. I think we are in a better spot than three days ago before the rest. We’ll see how it plays out today.”
Bell undoubtedly performed at a level so high during the first two months of the season that it would be difficult for any player to sustain over six months. Furthermore, Hurdle believes Bell’s lull has as much to do with the ebbs and flows of a 162-game season than anything.
Hurdle also feels it is a good sign that Bell is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone than at other points in his four-year career.
“It’s maturity as a hitter,” Hurdle said. “It also has helped him that he has teammates who can produce behind him. Sometimes if you want to honestly self-evaluate, your best way might be just to get on base. You might be facing a pitcher you might have had trouble with in the past or at a time in your cycle in the season where you’re not hot and trying to add value any way you can. I think he’s much more cognizant of that now.”
I don't buy into the idea that Bell is a one-year wonder. This is a player who had an .800 OPS and 26 home runs two years as a rookie and, despite cooling off, has posted a .293/.367/.623 line with 27 homers and major league-leading 84 RBIs in 94 games this season. Most importantly, he is just entering his prime and still has room for growth. Anyone who is writing Bell off is doing so prematurely.
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