Polanco's new regimen starting to pay off

Polanco's new regimen starting to pay off

NEW YORK -- After Gregory Polanco's 2014 rookie splash quickly turned into a belly-flop, the Pirates sent him off for the winter with a pretty simple checklist: Rest up, and beef up.

The 2013 Dominican League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year did not play winter ball. He also adhered to a dietary and workout regimen which manager Clint Hurdle said would "increase his stamina and make him bigger and stronger, without any loss of speed."

How is that working out? Well, consider Polanco's current tear after his 3-for-6 contribution to the Bucs' 5-3 victory in 14 innings on Saturday night over the Mets.

Polanco is challenging to be the Pirates' second consecutive player of the month (Andrew McCutchen copped that honor for July) by raising his August numbers to a .392 average and .466 on-base percentage. In August 2014, Polanco batted .225.

Longer term, since July 6 Polanco has reached base in 31 of 33 games, batting .328 with an OPS of .915.

During the same period a year ago, he batted .238, had on OPS of .647 and was 10 days away from being sent back to the Minors.

The Bucs now have to be credited with the perfect game plan for the 23-year-old talent, who appears on his way to validating the projections.

"Without a doubt," Hurdle said when asked if he can see signs of the offseason program paying off. "It's self-evident. He's been playing his best ball in the hottest months. There hasn't been any sign of fatigue from him at all.

"He's in that place where hitters say, 'The balls looks so big.' It never really changes size, but he's getting pitches he feels comfortable about getting the barrel on. He's playing and hitting with a lot of confidence."

Polanco is performing later in the season, as well as later in games. His 10th-inning go-ahead single Friday night was only his latest late-game clutch hit and, overall, he is carrying a .307 average with men in scoring position.

Touching all the bases

• First: A.J. Burnett had his second flat-ground catch at 120 feet on Saturday and thought will be given to having him throw off a mound "after we'll see how he feels," pitching coach Ray Searage said.

• Second: Starling Marte (left-hand bruise) missed his third straight start, but again entered as a pinch-runner -- this time in the sixth, meaning he played the last eight innings and went 0-for-3 at-bat.

• Third: Josh Harrison played all nine innings of Indianapolis' 3-2 victory on Saturday night at third base -- plans to have him play the outfield were altered -- with Jordy Mercer putting in another seven-inning shift at short.

The winning pitcher for Indianapolis? Vance Worley, who went five innings in his return appearance, allowing three hits.

• Home: The Bucs' 3-2 win in 10 innings on Friday was their 25th in 40 one-run games, MLB's best. The Pirates last had the Majors' best winning percentage in one-run games in 1958 (.612, on 30-19).

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.