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Osuna’s bat about to get a good, long look


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The Mets' Wilson Ramos celebrates his home run Saturday night at PNC Park. - AP

Clint Hurdle spent of a portion of his pre-game session with reporters speaking about Jose Osuna’s growth as a player and how his improved defense at third base and right field has added value.

Hurdle wasn’t making the in-game decisions against the Mets on Saturday night, though. He was serving the second game of his two-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball in the wake of Tuesday night’s brawl between the Pirates and Reds in Cincinnati.

Bench coach Tom Prince ran the club in Hurdle’s stead. Perhaps Prince should have deployed Osuna as a reliever.

The bullpen was raked for six runs in the final three innings, turning a 3-1 lead into a 7-5 loss at PNC Park. The Pirates (48-62) are just 4-17 since the All-Star break.

Osuna impressed with a two-inning appearance in mop-up relief July 24 during a 14-8 loss to the visiting Cardinals, allowing one run in two innings and reaching 93 mph with his fastball. That arm might have come in handy Saturday night as the Pirates’ bullpen was shorthanded with Keone Kela beginning his 10-game suspension for Tuesday’s fracas and Richard Rodriguez being placed on the paternity list before the game.

However, Osuna’s pitching days basically ended when he was a 15-year-old in Venezuela. A year later, in 2009, the Pirates signed him as a hitter on the international amateur free-agent market. Now, Osuna figures to finally get an extended look as a major-leaguer following the trade of Corey Dickerson to the Phillies on Wednesday.

Osuna has started each of the two games since Dickerson was dealt. He played right field Saturday after being the third baseman on Friday night in an 8-4 victory over the Mets in the opener of the three-game series.

The right-handed hitting Osuna felt it was a good sign that he was in Saturday’s lineup when the Pirates were facing right-hander Marcus Stroman. Hurdle opted to play Osuna over Melky Cabrera, who is 5 for 12 against Stroman. Furthermore, most of Osuna’s starts during the parts of three seasons he has spent in the major leagues have been against lefties.

“It’s something I’ve been working for a long time, the chance to play more,” Osuna said. “Everybody wants the chance to play every day and I’m excited that it looks like I’m going to get a chance to play more. Now I’ve got to do my job and keep working hard.”

The Pirates have long held out hope that Osuna could provide power in the major leagues. He has 17 home runs in 440 career plate appearances, including an MLB-leading five as a pinch-hitter this season, leaving him two away from the club record set by Craig Wilson in 2001.

However, what really has the Pirates excited is the quality of Osuna’s at-bats this season. That was on display Saturday night when the 26-year-old walked in two of his three plate appearances before being double switched out of the game after six innings.

One of the walks came off Stroman with the bases loaded in the first inning.

“He’s very confident with the bat,” said Prince, who managed Osuna in the minor leagues. “He knows how to hit, and he gives you a good at-bat. He knows the strike zone. He knows the pitch he’s looking for. He’s ready when there’s a pitch in his zone but he will also lay off if that pitch isn’t there.”

There was a time when the Pirates thought Osuna might be limited strictly to first base and some scouts even felt he was better suited to play in the American League as a designated hitter. However, he can competently handle playing the small right field at PNC Park and is improving at third base.

Osuna’s 45 starts at first base in the major leagues are his most at any position. He has also made 35 starts in right, 19 at third and 15 in left field. Hurdle felt Osuna played the best game of his career at third base on Friday night when he made two outstanding plays in the early innings.

“Every time I’ve been up in the big leagues, I feel like I’ve learned a lot, going back to when I first got called up in ’17,” Osuna said. “I feel like I can play up here. I really believe that. Now is my chance to prove it.”

• The  bullpen woes started in the seventh inning when Michael Feliz relieved Chris Archer and gave up a solo home run to Jeff McNeil that drew the Mets within 3-2.

Wilson Ramos then took over, hitting a two-run home run off Kyle Crick (3-7) in the eighth and a three-run double off Chris Stratton in ninth. The double, which could have been caught by Pablo Reyes at the wall, came after the Pirates intentionally walked Robinson Cano to load the bases with two outs.

Here are Ramos’ big hits, first the home run:

And the double:

• Archer allowed only one run in six innings but remained winless in 10 starts since June 6 because the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. One encouraging sign was that Archer did not allow a home run for just the second time in his last 17 starts.

The Mets got their lone run off Archer in the first inning and his pitch count was at 67 through three. However, he needed just 28 pitches to get through the last three innings.

“When he's on top of his game, that's what he does,” Prince said of Archer’s last three innings. "He settled in after that first inning. Thought he did a really good job.”

Bryan Reynolds reached base in all five plate appearances, going 4 for 4 with a walk. Starling Marte had three hits, including a two-run homer off closer Edwin Diaz with one out in the ninth that drew the Pirates within two runs.

• It was once again proven that the power of fireworks can never be underestimated. The Pirates had just their third sellout of the season, drawing 37,335 on a night when there were post-game pyrotechnics.

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