Polanco takes advantage of chance to hit cleanup

Polanco takes advantage of chance to hit cleanup

PITTSBURGH -- If Gregory Polanco's body hadn't barked at him Thursday in Atlanta, he would have found himself in the cleanup spot Friday night at PNC Park. But the soreness in his throwing shoulder persisted, so he sat out all weekend, limited to pinch-hitting in whichever spot the game dictated.

But Polanco's shoulder felt better Tuesday morning, so he went through a full workout at PNC Park and was declared fit to play. And manager Clint Hurdle followed through on the plan he devised days ago, writing Polanco's name into the cleanup spot for the first time in his Major League career. Polanco lived up to the position, slugging a tie-breaking three-run homer in the Pirates' 6-4 win over the Padres.

"I like to hit in the middle of the lineup," Polanco said. "I feel comfortable there. Hopefully I stay there for a long time."

With the Pirates' lineup struggling, Hurdle sought ways to shake things up. He wrote out four or five different versions, but he felt drawn to one more than the others.

So Hurdle put Josh Harrison back in the leadoff spot. He moved Starling Marte into the two-hole, in front of Andrew McCutchen. John Jaso bounced to the six-hole, and Francisco Cervelli was nudged down to seventh.

"I'm looking at skill sets. I'm looking at analytics. I'm looking at histories that they might have had," Hurdle said. "When you have the highest RBI percentage of anyone on the team this year, that's a guy that can take a look. ... Just seemed like a good smooth fit. It made sense to me."

But for three games, while Polanco was waiting for his shoulder to heal, Matt Joyce started in right field and hit cleanup. That wasn't the plan, however. That spot was reserved for Polanco.

"He's been our most efficient guy in RBI percentage," Hurdle said. "Try something different. I felt our offense wasn't producing like it was capable of producing so I wanted to move the men around a bit to see if we could get more."

They got more Tuesday night, particularly in a four-run fifth inning against Padres right-hander Luis Perdomo. Harrison reached on an infield single and pulled a swim-move, replay-reversed slide to reach second. McCutchen drew a walk, his first of three on the night.

Harrison's slide dodges tag

Up came Polanco, with one out and the game tied. He'd hit the ball hard to center field in each of his first two at-bats, but just missed it. He fell behind, 0-2, saw a 93-mph sinker up over the plate and unleashed on it.

"I heard it," starter Chad Kuhl said. "So yeah, I knew that one was gone."

The three-run homer was Polanco's 16th of the season and increased his RBI total to 59, both team highs. Not bad for a first-time cleanup hitter.

"I like to hit with men on base. I like the challenge," Polanco said. "I like trying to stay ready and put a good swing on the ball."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.