Polanco shakes off rust in return to cleanup spot

Outfielder homers in first game since going on DL, misplays two balls in outfield

Polanco shakes off rust in return to cleanup spot

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told reporters before Friday's game that right fielder Gregory Polanco was in a good place, even if he hadn't played a game since May 14.

Polanco certainly looked alright at the plate Friday night. In his first game back from the disabled list, Polanco clobbered a solo home run to center field, accounting for the Pirates' only run in their 8-1 loss to the Mets Friday night at PNC Park in the series opener.

Polanco added another hit in the ninth inning, going 2-of-4 on a night when Mets starter Jacob deGrom struck out 10 batters and only allowed six hits in 8 1/3 innings.

"For me, it's a pleasant surprise," Hurdle said of Polanco's performance. "He went out there, he was aggressive with his swing, and he got a ball over the plate, and he drilled it. The other pitches, the other at-bats, he was in the hunt fighting. He got to see spin, he got to see velocity, he got to see a guy that pitched one of the best games that we've had pitched against us all year. He was in a competitive place for four at-bats."

The Pirates placed Polanco on the DL on May 17 with a left hamstring strain. He had been playing well before the injury, slashing .357/.357/.643, with a home run and a double in his last four games before he was placed on the DL.

The Pirates reinstated Polanco on Thursday. And on Friday, he returned to the lineup in the cleanup spot. Polanco echoed Hurdle's statement that he was in a good place despite his lengthy stay on the DL. He was excited to finally play again.

"I feel good. I feel strong," Polanco said. "I'm not scared, not going to play with hesitation. I just play hard and help my team as much as I can."

Polanco didn't wait long to contribute. In his second at-bat, he drove a 2-1, 95-mph four-seam fastball over the center-field wall for his second home run of the season. The home run had an exit velocity of 104.1 mph and a launch angle of 29 degrees, and traveled a projected 411 feet, according to Statcast™.

"It was just good for one to have him back in the lineup," second basemen Josh Harrison said. "Nobody likes to be on the DL. It was good for him to come back and get his feet wet, but also show that he is in a good spot. It was very encouraging on the outside looking in even though we lost."

Polanco's return wasn't entirely perfect. In the second inning, he pulled up too soon trying to catch a ball that had a 13 percent catch rate, according to Statcast™. It went for a double instead. And then in the sixth, he lost a ball in the lights, which allowed two runners to score.

But Polanco also showed that he is dangerous in the cleanup spot. And that he provides a much-needed boost to the Pirates lineup.

"That's a bat we need," Harrison said.

Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.