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Dickerson’s dynamic defense suprising to everyone but him

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It was a snowy, cold, miserable evening in Pittsburgh. The announced paid attendance at PNC Park was 8,958, but far fewer fans attended Monday night’s game to see the Pirates battle the Colorado Rockies.

And, to be honest, they didn’t miss much. The Pirates lost 6-2 in a briskly played two-hour and 35-minute game. Rockies starter German Marquez decidedly outpitched his counterpart, lefty Steven Brault, as Colorado won handedly.

So now is as good of a time as any to talk about Corey Dickerson’s arm, right?

When the Pirates traded for Dickerson, the scouting reports were all similar: He’s a solid, if streaky, hitter who is likely to struggle defensively in the National League’s expansive outfields.

The first part of that scouting report appears to be accurate. Dickerson expanded his hitting streak to 11 games with a single up the middle in the seventh inning on Monday’s game and still is the league leader in line drive percentage.

But the impact that the former Colorado and Tampa Bay outfielder has had with his glove is remarkable.

In the top of the sixth inning, with Ian Desmond on first base, Carlos Gonzalez lifted a fly ball that pulled Dickerson towards the line. Desmond, seeing an opportunity to advance on Gonzalez’s flyout, sprinted to second. Dickerson, aided by Starling Marte yelling “tag”, turned towards second, planted his feet, and fired a throw to Adam Frazier’s waiting glove to complete an unconventional 7-4 double play.

The putout was Dickerson’s fourth outfield assist of the season, the best mark of any outfielder. The Pirates left fielder said that this wasn’t the first time that he had a hot streak in the outfield, but he only accrued four assists in 753 innings last season. This year he reached that mark in 121 innings.

“I want to be an all-around player and respected for my all-around game,” Dickerson said. “I take pride in what I do and I’m going to try and get better. I don’t think that I’ve reached my potential at all.”

It’s not just the outfield assists that are causing a buzz about Dickerson’s defense. According to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), the Pirates left fielder is the best fielder in all of baseball.

While the spectre of small sample size is present in that stat, Dickerson’s defensive improvement is not an accident.

Since undergoing shoulder surgery early in his baseball career, Dickerson has felt that he’s needed to prove himself as an outfielder. He’s patiently honed his craft for years, working to master the basics: Running routes, optimizing speed, shagging flies, and constantly working on arm strength and throwing accuracy.

Now those efforts are starting to turn up in the scoresheet.

Dickerson was told about his outfield assists tally and that DRS fancies him as the best fielder in baseball right now, but said that he isn’t necessarily concerned about those stats.

“What I try to do is just be fundamentally sound and not let people take extra bases,” Dickerson said. “If I don’t get many more assists, that’s fine. As long as I don’t make errors and do the routine things.

But he does have lofty expectations for himself and believes that, with enough practice, he can become one of the best players in the league if he continues to develop his game on both sides.

Brault’s blunders

Unfortunately, Dickerson’s efforts in the outfield did little to deter the Rockies from winning on Monday night.

Starter Brault had trouble putting Colorado hitters away, even after getting ahead in the count.

“We got to 0-2, and that was almost my kryptonite tonight,” Brault said. “Two walks and a home run from an 0-2 count. That just can’t happen.”

It did happen. And it’s a pretty big reason why the Pirates lost. Five Rockies reached base in the first four innings of Brault’s outing and every one of them scored.

The most troubling stretch happened in the fourth inning. After recording a quick groundout to start the inning, Brault jumped ahead of Desmond 0-2 before eventually falling behind and walking the Rockies first baseman.

Next Gonzalez hit a grounder up the middle that Brault could have fielded but let go, thinking shortstop Jordy Mercer was shifted to play behind the second base bag. He wasn’t, and Gonzo collected a weak single.

But the real damage came at the hands of Trevor Story. The Rockies shortstop fell behind 0-2, but took advantage of a botched slider and clobbered it over the left field wall for a three-run homer.

“We knew we had him swinging, so the point was to throw a slider in the dirt and I threw it right down the middle,” Brault said.

With Story’s homer, the Rockies took a 5-0 lead and never looked back. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that Brault’s command was not good enough to beat the heavy-hitting Rockies team, even without Nolan Arenado absent while serving a suspension.

“The fastball command just wasn’t there,” Hurdle said. “He left some openings that a good-hitting team took advantage of.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Brault executed his game plan by getting ahead of the Rockies batters. The lefty said that it might have been his most efficient effort in the majors. The next step is finishing those batters off.