Kovacevic: Of late, infield tells the hole story ☕


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Josh Bell stumbles over a grounder Monday night at PNC Park. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

"Stupid play" was what Colin Moran called it, and that was before I'd barely begun my question about the, uh, stupid play.

Which was impressive in its own context, considering the Pirates' infield has made so many stupid, sloppy, sluggish plays the past few days that I really could have been asking about an assortment of mishaps, not just three that marred their 9-7 loss to the Brewers on this Monday night at PNC Park.

But let's start with Moran's because it really was ... oh, you know.

Fourth inning. Milwaukee up, 2-0. Dario Agrazal's facing bases loaded, but he's also facing his counterpart, Jordan Lyles, in the box. Joey Cora's got the infield playing slightly up at the corners, clearly hoping for a force at home.

Lo and behold, Lyles obliged ...

... but so did Moran, casting only a sideways glance toward the plate before, inexplicably, firing across to first.

"I went up for the bounce and, by the time I got it, I didn't think I could get him at home," Moran explained to me. "And then, I just kind of panicked and went to first instead of going to second, where I could've had the double play."

Yeah, there was that scenario, too. With the pitcher running, a 5-4-3 was all but a slam dunk. Agrazal wouldn't have been out of the inning, obviously, but, as Moran acknowledged, "I put Dario in a bad position." Sure did. Trent Grisham followed with a two-run single, and Milwaukee was up, 5-0.

"We didn't defend very well behind Dario in the fourth," Clint Hurdle would affirm. "It should've been a whole different story."

When I asked Hurdle specifically about Moran and how much he should have set his focus before the pitch, Hurdle replied with striking bluntness, "Yeah, there's no doubt. I mean, you're taught in Little League. What do you do with that ball when the ball's hit to you? I think he'll be the first one to tell you where that play should have gone. That wasn't the out we were looking for right there."

It's not like Moran didn't realize it right away. Seemingly the moment he released the ball, he began demonstrably exhibiting uncommon anger, pumping his fist with the same venom as the invective. Until eventually kneeling to try to cool off:

[caption id="attachment_867785" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

Again, though, this sequence stands in a long line. In one of the weekend losses to the Mets, I counted no fewer than five grounders that were at least reasonably playable that got by infield gloves. Indiscriminately, too. All four positions. Seemingly one after another.

In this one, too, earlier in the fourth, Josh Bell did this ...

And in the eighth, Adam Frazier did this ...

... both of which handed Milwaukee cheap runs.

Those were physical errors, Bell getting the ball stuck in his glove and Frazier having the ball come up hard off his thumb, and those generally can be forgiven in baseball. Except when they come in bulk. Except when they feel expected.

"We win this game if we make all the plays we're supposed to make," Frazier told me. "We gave them four or five runs, probably. Makes it a lot harder on pitchers. Makes it a lot harder on all of us."

This qualifies, I'd think, more as a disappointment than a surprise. The infield was a mess in Bradenton, and expectations were modest at best for how they'd defend. But in the interim, Moran and Frazier have been better, Kevin Newman's been a breakout story at shortstop, and Bell ... hit a lot of home runs for a couple months.

Statistically, the Pirates' overall defensive efficiency ratio, my favorite catch-all number in this category, is .678, or 26th among Major League Baseball's 30 teams. Bell's nine errors -- he curiously wasn't charged with one for the scene above -- are most at his position in the National League. Moran's got 11, and the only two third basemen with more have logged much more playing time there.

It's impossible to envision where this infield's headed into the future, even for 2020. But with Bell a presumed anchor at first, the other three positions no doubt have to perform far better to entertain any kind of contention. It might not get exposed every day, but it evidently will over the full 162.

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