Pirates easing back on Freese's playing time

Pirates easing back on Freese's playing time

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates third baseman David Freese didn't start Thursday's series finale against the Rays or Friday's series opener against the Giants. Why? Manager Clint Hurdle answered bluntly.

"I believe I've played David too much," Hurdle said. "I believe we need to give David a break."

Hurdle shared his thoughts with Freese on Thursday afternoon. The veteran infielder met with Hurdle, who warned their conversation would either go really well or really poorly.

"This is going to be a good conversation," Freese told Hurdle. "I'm a realist. I'm honest. I want to be out there. I want my ABs. I want to play. I want to be a reason why we're winning. But sometimes it's going to have to be off the bench."

When Freese signed with the Pirates last March and inked an extension last August, neither party expected he would play every day. The plan was to have him back up Jung Ho Kang at third base, spend some time at first and serve as a right-handed bat off the bench.

But Kang was arrested in December and charged with his third DUI since 2009. He has not been able to secure a work visa, so he remains in South Korea. Without a better fit, Freese realized in May -- around the time of Kang's unsuccessful appeals hearing -- he would be the everyday third baseman.

Further complicating matters is Starling Marte's suspension. Under normal circumstances, Josh Harrison could bounce to third base on a regular basis, freeing up Adam Frazier to play second. But with Frazier starting in left field in Marte's place, Harrison is the starting second baseman. That leaves Freese as their best available option at third.

Frazier started at second, with Harrison at third and John Jaso in left field, on Thursday and Friday.

"We all know this team is better with Jung Ho here. Me getting pulled back to a semi-bench role makes this team stronger," Freese said. "With Marte here and Frazier in a semi-bench role, it's a totally different team. We've fought through it, and I've battled through it.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to play every day, but I think [after] four ankle surgeries ... and where I'm at, you guys see how I am when I'm fresh. It [stinks], but it's just a different story now [versus] when my legs are fresh."

Freese struggled down the stretch last season, when the Pirates first expressed their intention to pull back on his playing time. Freese posted a .954 OPS before going on the disabled list April 29 with a right hamstring strain. Since then, he has hit just .219 with a .299 slugging percentage.

"I haven't managed it as well as I should have," Hurdle said. "I think we'll make an adjustment moving forward that will be beneficial to him and absolutely will be beneficial to us."

Freese will be back in the lineup Saturday against Giants left-hander Matt Moore. He doesn't want to set a firm schedule but believes the club will communicate and "definitely be smart" about his playing time. He also hopes more preventative time off now will keep him fresh enough to play every day if the club makes a postseason push.

"It is frustrating, but it's also being honest with myself and understanding where I'm at and what this team needs," Freese said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.