This is Part 2 in a three-part series looking ahead to the Pirates' summer training camp. Players will report today, and camp will start Friday.
The National League fought it for over 40 years, but in 2020, it will use the designated hitter.
For now, it's a one-time thing as part of the health and safety protocols, putting a little less stress on pitchers and reducing the chances of them getting hurt. While the league and players association discussed many radical changes for the 2020 season, this is one of the few that will actually be implemented.
The plan is for pitchers to go back to hitting in the 2021 season. After that, who knows? The collective bargaining agreement between the league and players association is set to expire after then, and an NL DH could be a part of the new deal.
So the Pirates will get a taste of the designated hitter for the first time this year, but don't expect it to be just one guy sliding into the role.
“I don’t see that we would David Ortiz it or Travis Hafner it,” Derek Shelton said in May when it started to look like the NL would adopt the DH.
Shelton had coached exclusively in the American League before coming to Pirates, so he is no stranger to the designated hitter. If he wanted to Ortiz or Hafner it, he has options on this roster.
Josh Bell was one of the National League's best hitters last year, but has struggled in the field throughout his career. Gregory Polanco reported to Bradenton, Fla. healthy and swung the bat well in spring training, but there are serious concerns about his left shoulder. Having him just focus on hitting could make him play a full season for the first time since 2016. Colin Moran has swung the bat well in his time with the Pirates, but he was one of the worst defenders in baseball last year, greatly hurting his value. The Pirates also have one of the game's premier third base prospects, Ke'Bryan Hayes, who is ready to make the leap to the Majors.
“We’ve got a number of options to give DH at-bats to,” Ben Cherington said during a recent Zoom call. “[Players] who were part of our major league roster last year or were in spring training."
So the plan is to instead rotate. It could extend beyond those three hitters, too, as the DH will be a way to spell position players in this season where there are fewer off-days and less time to prepare in summer camp.
“What [the DH] does provide, obviously, is having another bat in the lineup that we’ll rotate," Shelton said during a Zoom call with reporters last week. "And we’ll be able to, instead of maybe [resting] someone that we were going to play in our regular lineup that day, they’ll have the ability to get four or five ABs. And I think that’s extremely important for us. Not planning on going with one person there. We’ll kind of rotate it through.”
What does the Pirates' lineup look like with a designated hitter?
Let's project their opening day starting nine:
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