PITTSBURGH — It was almost comical to watch Gregory Polanco to throw when he first came to the major leagues last season in June.
The Pirates right fielder seemed to take forever to unload the ball with his long right arm. He looked more like a pitcher working from the windup than an outfielder trying to get the ball back into the infield.
Polanco’s throwing is no longer a joke, though, which he proved Friday night in the Pirates’ 5-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park, their 13th in the last 16 games to move a season-high 29 games over .500 at 78-49.
In the top of the eighth, Polanco made the play of the game when he threw out Jose Reyes at home plate to the end the inning and keep the score tied 3-3 when the speedy shortstop tried to tag up and score from third base with what would have been the go-ahead run on Nolan Arenado’s line drive.
In the bottom of the inning, Polanco followed pinch hitter Josh Harrison with the second of back-to-back RBI singles that put the Pirates ahead. That capped a 3-for-5 night at the plate that included two runs scored, a double and his 22nd stolen base.
However, the three hits were a footnote in the eyes of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
“You’ve got your fastest runner on third base in that point of the game, I think he’s always going to be sent,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think the dime is on the outfielder to make a play.”
A play Polanco probably wouldn’t have made as a rookie last season and might not have made earlier this year.
“Greg’s confidence continues to grow,” Hurdle said. “We remember when he first got here, he was working on going to the wall, routes, everything to get better, throws as far as accuracy. He had long levers, it took a long time for him to throw. He’s refining his routine through his practice, and he is nailing it in games, in high-leverage situations he is nailing them.”
Polanco has also become much more aware of game situations as he gains major league experience while also learning that less can be more when it comes to using his rocket arm.
“I know it was Reyes,” Polanco said. “That’s why I was trying not to do too much or overthrow because when you rush, you don’t have control. You just throw it and you don’t know where.
“I just tried to put a good throw, throw it in the right direction, that’s the first thing. You try to throw it anywhere else, you’ve got no chance. So you have to throw it in the right direction to get it out.”
However, it was Polanco’s eighth assist of the season that impressed his teammates more than a three-hit effort.
“I’m sure the scouting report says something,” Harrison said. “They keep testing him, but if they keep testing him they’ll get the same result and I’m cool with it.”
–Right-hander A.J. Burnett is scheduled to throw the equivalent of three innings in the bullpen prior to Sunday’s game against the Rockies.
Burnett has been on the disabled list since July 31 with a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow. While the Pirates are pleased with Burnett’s progress, they do not have a timetable for his return.
–Left-hander Francisco Liriano did not factor in the decision but the Pirates won for the 11th straight time when he started.
That is the longest streak for the Pirates since 12 by A.J. Burnett in 2012. The club record is 14 by Dock Ellis in 1971. Liriano is the seventh Pirates’ pitcher with a streak of at least 11 games. Liriano last lost June 20 at Washington when the Pirates were no-hit by Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.
On Friday, Liriano allowed three runs and four hits in six innings while striking out five and walking three.
–Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was rested in favor of rookie Jung Ho Kang at third base, though he did pinch hit in the eighth inning and flied out.
It was just the fourth time in 31 games that the 37-year-old Ramirez was not in the lineup since joining the Pirates on July 25, two days after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade.
Kang had two hits and two RBIs.
–Center fielder Andrew McCutchen extended his hitting streak to six games by going 2-for-3 with a walk. He is 11-for-22 (.500) during his streak, raising his batting average to .304.
–Closer Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth inning for his 42nd save, which leads the major leagues. He is four saves away from the club record of 46 set by Mike Williams in 2002.