Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Bench Bell? Yep, and Hurdle explains why

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Josh Bell. – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Crank back the clock two months, and it'd seem ludicrous — impossible, even — to bench Josh Bell.

Bell earned NL Player of the Month honors in May after a bonkers stretch of play that saw him tally 94 total bases, the most by any player in May since Willie Mays had 102 in 1958.

Bell's historic total included 12 home runs and 12 doubles, becoming just the third player in NL history to hit at least 12 of each category in a single month, while also leading all Major League players in hits (46) and RBIs (31).

Bell seemed a virtual lock to be the first Pirate to hit 40 home runs in a season since Willie Stargell hit 44 in 1973, and many enjoyed a healthy debate over whether he would join Ralph Kiner as the only other Pirates player to hit at least 50 in a season.

“I’m jealous how easy it is,” Colin Moran told me in late-May in Cincinnati.

Now, nothing is easy for Bell. Since participating in the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby on July 8, Bell hasn't hit a home run in actual, regular-season competition.

His 89 RBIs still lead the majors, but now he shares that lead with Arizona third-baseman Eduardo Escobar. That stat only highlights how insane his run to open the year truly was, as he's batted .160 — 13 for 81 — with just five RBIs since July 5.

So, yeah. It was time. Despite Bell's historic start, the leash ran out of slack, and Clint Hurdle had to pull the plug for a reset.

"I just felt it was time," Hurdle told reporters at PNC Park before the team's 7:05 p.m. game Tuesday against the Brewers. "We've had conversations. He's worked on some things, and there just comes a point in time where, you know what? Let's not work on some things. This matchup in particular has been tough."

Interestingly, Bell's last home run came against the Brewers on July 5. But rather than view this series as a chance to reset and gain some positive momentum, Hurdle sees it as a chance for Bell to fully unwind, to breathe and to recalibrate. Bell will have off Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as Thursday (an off day for the Pirates) for a total of three consecutive rest days.

A similar situation played out last year for Bell, marking two Augusts in a row he's received time off to regroup.

"There's been growth on his part. And there's been maturation on his part — not that it wasn't there last year — but it's just another season," Hurdle said. "And of course, it's been so many firsts this season. And then I think he also understands that the priority of this unplug is to maximize the last six weeks or seven weeks."

While the idea here is to give Bell a chance to bounce back and finish the season strong, one thing still remained unclear to me: Bell has struggled for a solid month. While the drought has intensified recently, he also dipped from his May performance into June. The signs have been showing for a significant stretch of time now.

So why now? Why was this the perfect time to give him a break?

I asked Hurdle, and he gave a solid, in-depth, two-minute response:

"I trust my instincts, and sometimes the player's body language sends messages," Hurdle told me. "I just try to be aware ... I like to let the players have some ownership in things because I think that grows them up. I think it also holds them accountable. It's not just, 'Oh, he just yanked me out of the lineup. He doesn't trust me.' No, I trust you. And I'm not going to yank anybody anywhere.

"Our best lineup's with him in it when he's hitting and playing at a level that we've grown accustomed to this year."

All this said, what exactly will Bell do with his days off? Look at film? Practice? Analyze various pitching patterns that've given him struggles?

Nah.

At the time of our chat, Hurdle said Bell was playing video games. And that's exactly what he wants to hear. This is a time to relax. If there is baseball involved, keep it light and keep it minimal.

"Sometimes it is an encouragement to just, 'Don't take a bunch of swings today,'" Hurdle said. "You don't really need to watch any video. Matter of fact, if you do watch video, watch all the stuff where you're crushing balls. Get your work in. Prepare, because I may need you off the bench."

Listen to Hurdle's full media session here:

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