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Pregame: Hurdle discusses upcoming roster decision and pitching Watson with a four run lead

Justin K. Aller

Notes from this afternoon's pregame:

Rotation plans

With Gerrit Cole due to pitch tomorrow, the Pirates will have to make a roster move involving their starting rotation in the next 24 hours. Presumably, they won't risk losing Vance Worley, so he is a very unlikely candidate to be removed from their active roster. The Pirates probably won't do anything as drastic as DFAing a reliever and putting Brandon Cumpton in the bullpen. That leaves either Jeff Locke or Cumpton likely to be sent down.

"Part of it is performance," Clint Hurdle said of the variables that will weigh into the decision. "Part of it is asset allocation, which means a player has options. How do you like your rotation set up? Do you like a right-hander? Do you like a left-hander? You also try to make sure you maintain depth."

Hurdle added that Cumpton's start tonight will not be a factor.

Starling Marte update

Hurdle said that Marte is continuing a "workout progression," and is improved from yesterday. He will be available to come off the bench tonight.

Travis Snider starts; Harrison gets a rest

Travis Snider will start in left field and bat second tonight. Josh Harrison is just getting a "rest day," and is likely to see more time in the outfield in the coming days as Hurdle said that he anticipates giving "another outfielder or two a day off" over the course of the homestand.

Bullpen management

Hurdle raised a few eyebrows when he decided to pitch Tony Watson with a four-run lead in the eighth inning last night. That large of lead with only six outs remaining is a low-leverage situation. Yesterday was not the first time that Hurdle has used (arguably) his best reliever with a relatively comfortable lead.

This afternoon, Hurdle was asked about bringing in his best relievers with a four-run lead. He said that the decision is usually based on "where we are in their lineup."

"If you saw last night, we were in the meat of their lineup," Hurdle said. "That's why we want our best available reliever out there to pitch through that situation, and we adjust accordingly going into the ninth if we have a four-run lead."

Watson is unavailable tonight.

Alen Hanson returns

After missing six games, Alen Hanson is back in the starting lineup tonight for Altoona. He will lead off and play shortstop.

Top of the order dominance

The Pirates' offense is on fire in June. Bucs hitters have the second highest wRC+ in baseball at 119.  (That is, the Bucs' offense has been 19 percent more productive than the average team.) When pitchers are excluded, the Pirates' 126 wRC+ ranks first in baseball.

Obviously, much of the offensive outburst is due to the top of the order. Gregory Polanco has exceeded all reasonable expectations in his first few weeks in the majors, Starling Marte has regained his footing at the plate, and Andrew McCutchen has continued his season long tear.

But how good has the top of the order been? Here's one way to look at it:

The numbers below represent the percentage of offense that has come from the top three spots in the order. The most interesting numbers are the runs and RBI columns. Fully 50.4 percent of the Pirates runs scored, and 50.8 percent of the team's RBI's, have come from the first three spots in the order in June. That compares to a major league average of 35.7 and 39.6 percent. respectively.

PIT 35 41.8 48.7 50 58 30.7 50.4 50.8
MLB 36 37.7 39.1 42.5 37.2 39.6 35.7 39.6

The differences in the slashlines are equally revealing:

(Interesting to note that the Pirates' 4-through-8 hitters compare relatively favorably with the league's 1-through-3.)

PIT 1-3 .321 .388 .533
PIT 4-8 .261 .356 .373
MLB 1-3 .265 .332 .412

(Stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference)