Polanco forcing challenges by popping off bases; club seeking more conservative approach
By John McGonigal
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco has been at the center of three replay challenges initiated by the Reds on his slides into second base during this series -- two of them were overturned Tuesday night, and he got one to go his way in the Pirates' 5-2 loss Wednesday.
In the third inning of Tuesday's 7-6 win, the Pirates outfielder easily beat the throw and the tag on a steal of second base and was initially ruled safe. But following a Reds challenge, he was called out after it was revealed that he popped off the bag for a brief second. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips held the tag the whole way.
With no outs and facing a three-run deficit, the Pirates would have had a prime scoring opportunity if Polanco was safe at second. Instead, Pittsburgh didn't score that frame.
The same thing happened a second time in Tuesday's game, this time in the sixth inning. Polanco tried stealing second, was called safe, but he popped off the bag. Phillips maintained the tag on his hip, and the call on the field was overturned after another challenge.
"We've got to eliminate this instant replay-hold the ball on his hamstring until the sun comes up and hope he pops off the bag by the hair of the chinny-chin-chin," Pirates third base and baserunning coach Rick Sofield said after Tuesday's game. "[Polanco's] not the only guy this is happening to. The instant replay is changing the game."
A similar situation almost affected Wednesday night's game, as well.
With a runner on first base in the seventh inning, Polanco hit a two-out single to left field and took second base just ahead of a throw. Polanco was called safe after a tag, but he slightly came off the bag again, prompting the Reds to challenge. However, this time officials ruled the original safe call to stand.
In reaction to these instances occurring, Sofield and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said a more conservative sliding approach is necessary.
Traditionally, baserunners will use the "pop-up" slide -- essentially attacking the bag with enough momentum to propel their bodies upright. That way, in the event of an overthrown ball, they're prepared to potentially advance to the next base.
However, that's part of the issue with the Pirates' slides, and it was exemplified by Polanco.
Sofield said he spoke with Polanco, and Hurdle noted that he and his staff have initiated conversations with the players about staying on the ground and not popping up. Hurdle also said a major aspect of it is sliding earlier rather than later to avoid sliding through the bag.
"I think it's something we need to revisit," Hurdle said. "We're approaching this subject with kid gloves. ... This is a first-time thing. I don't believe replay is going away, so we just have to be smart with it."
A part of that is not only having conversations, but also examining video and recreating situations on sliding mats -- whatever Pittsburgh's coaching staff needs to do to ensure that instances like Polanco's don't happen again.
"It's a factor," Sofield said. "We can't afford to lose those stolen bases."
John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.