Josh Bell did not drop by the maternity ward of Allegheny General Hospital to deliver gifts and wave to new-born Pirates’ fans Thursday after helping power his team to a 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals earlier in the afternoon at PNC Park.
The rookie switch-hitting first baseman is shown doing just that on an AGH commercial that airs during Pirates’ game telecasts on ROOT Sports. It’s a cute spot, though Bell hasn’t seen it yet.
“I haven’t even had time to get cable in my apartment because the season has been going so fast” Bell said with a smile. “My girlfriend saw it, though, and she loved it.”
If Bell keeps hitting home runs at his current pace, fans might start naming their newborns Josh or Belle.
Batting cleanup for the first time in his nascent career, Bell opened the scoring Thursday with a two-run home run in the first inning off Tanner Roark. It was his fourth homer in six games and team-high ninth this season.
“I’m just riding the wave right now,” Bell said. “I felt like I’m putting my ‘A’ swing on every pitch. You just try to keep this feeling for as long as you can.”
The Pirates have reason to feel a little better about themselves after taking two of three games from the National League East-leading Nationals and winning four of five games overall on the heels of a six-game losing streak.
While that hasn’t gotten the Pirates out the NL Central basement, the continued improvement shown by Bell is an encouraging sign. It was particularly impressive how Bell responded to batting cleanup Thursday for the first time in 86 career games.
Manager Clint Hurdle wouldn’t have put Bell in the No. 4 spot in a perfect world. However, right fielder Gregory Polanco, the Pirates’ regular cleanup hitter, is on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring and Hurdle rested veteran third baseman David Freese in a day game following a night game.
“I spoke with Josh before the game about it,” Hurdle said. “I just like writing him in the lineup, letting him play and watching him.”
Hitting cleanup can mess with some players’ minds, though, with Polanco being a case in point.
All 33 of his starts this season have come from the No. 4 hole and he has only one home run in 134 plate appearances. Polanco went deep 22 times last season while being shuffled around in the order, making at least 22 starts in the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 slots.
However, the 24-year-old Bell doesn’t rattle easily. Thus, he didn’t put extra pressure on himself when he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning with two outs and Adam Frazier on the third base.
Bell then smacked a full-count pitch into the right-field stands.
“I just tried to get my pitch and not change anything,” Bell said. “It definitely makes things easier getting that homer and adding to the confidence.”
The Pirates showed their confidence in Bell in 2011 when they chose him with the first pick of the second round of the amateur draft after he starred at Jesuit Prep in Dallas. Though Bell told teams he was committed to playing at the University of Texas and would not sign, the Pirates wooed him with a $5-million signing bonus.
Six years later, it remains the largest bonus ever for a player not drafted in the first round. It also stands as one of the few times when the penny-pinching Pirates ever opened their wallet.
Bell is making the investment look better with each home run.