Kovacevic: Without Bell’s barrel, no bullets ☕️


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Josh Bell takes off his batting gloves after a strikeout Sunday at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

In the event of a building fire, Josh Bell's the one anyone would want heading the evacuation. He's as easygoing as it gets, cool and comfortable, and he's that way in part because he's equally in complete command of any situation. He studies. He processes. He knows the route.

That's why I never really worry about the guy. Even through a dozen home runs in 2018, he came equipped with all of the above. He knew what was wrong. He knew how to fix it. And in his ever-churning mind, from there, it was a matter of following the right route.

Well, I'm at least a little worried now.

Not because he went 0 for 4 in the Pirates' 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Phillies on this particular Sunday at PNC Park.

Not even because he's now 4 for 29 since the All-Star break, with one extra-base hit -- a double -- and a .138/.265/.172 slash line, contributing painfully to the team's 2-7 trudge in that time.

No, it's more because of how he looked after this latest stinker.

When he'd laced a single Tuesday night in St. Louis, shortly after a solidly struck out, he beamed to me in the Busch Stadium clubhouse, “Finally. I knew when I flied out the at-bat before I’d be fine. Stayed inside the ball.”

But after this one ...

Don't skip that video. Watch it. It's not the same, simply reading a transcription.

"Yeah, it's tough," the man spoke. "It's been a tough go after the break. Tough not squaring balls up as much. I felt like even the month before that wasn't all that good. So I'm just trying to turn some things around, continue to work, continue to sell out to a plan and, hopefully, things turn around."

It's beyond silly to blame the Home Run Derby, as Bell didn't advance past the first round. Besides, as he indicated, there also was a .208/.316/.448 May.

Still, I had to ask.

"Yeah, but if you look at my numbers before the Derby, they weren't too pretty, either," he replied. "I'm just trying to turn things around and do what I can to help the team win."

I've got no flies on the office walls of Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz, but it doesn't require hitting coach expertise to see what's off about Bell: Those two prioritize, above all else, swinging only into a hot zone, a highly specific area that's targeted against each opposing pitcher in each game. If the pitch isn't in that zone, lay off. If it is, swing with belligerence.

This, in stark contrast, was Bell's entire four-pitch at-bat in the ninth inning Sunday against Philadelphia sinker specialist Hector Neris:

Oh. No.

Neris is having an OK summer, with a 1.19 WHIP and a 55/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But that up there is four strikes on four of the same pitch arriving in almost precisely the same spot. And that spot is the hot zone for absolutely no one who's ever played ball, requiring the lunge of a longboat fisherman.

There's no question he needs to rediscover his peak-level discipline. If that means making a few more outs to achieve it, so be it.

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