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Thread: Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman

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    Default Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman

    Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman
    Thursday, April 1, 2010


    LAKELAND, Fla. Jeff Clement's ability to scoop throws at first base is tested every time left-hander Zach Duke pitches.

    A master sinkerball pitcher, Duke induces plenty of ground balls to the left side of the infield. That means plenty of much-needed work for Clement, a former catcher who will make his first career start at first base on Opening Day.

    "Balls in the dirt are still a work in progress for Jeff," Pirates infield coach Carlos Garcia said. "But he's grown a lot over there. I feel comfortable saying he should break (camp) with us.

    "He's been working his butt off (in drills) and it's been good. The reaction time has been there, he's been making the routine plays and his footwork around the base is pretty good."

    Duke was on the mound for just 3.1 innings Wednesday in the Pirates' 8-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Clement did not get as many chances as before, which explains why he was the only position player to go all nine innings.

    "He looks like he belongs over there," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "The more ground balls he takes, he's going to get a lot better."

    In Duke's previous start March 26 against Houston, Clement took 10 throws in six innings. There was one awkward play, when Clement caught a high throw and bumped into the Astros' Carlos Lee at the bag, but the rest were relatively smooth.

    "He's made some tough picks," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There's been a couple balls, maybe, that weren't so good, but every first baseman is going to be that way. He's looked the part."

    Still, Clement has some big shoes to fill. Adam LaRoche, whom the Pirates traded away last season, excelled at pulling throws out of the dirt. According to Stats LLC, LaRoche ranked second in the majors last year with 182 scoops in 210 attempts (86.7 percent).

    With Ryan Doumit entrenched at catcher, the Pirates moved Clement to first base to get his lefty power bat into the lineup. Management also was concerned Clement's surgically repaired knees no longer can handle the wear and tear behind the plate.

    Out of 219 career games in the minors, Clement has played in just 28 games at first base. He was robbed of playing time last summer by a strained oblique, so Clement has been getting a crash course during spring training.

    "He's got the hands to do it," manager John Russell said.

    Now, he just needs the repetitions to make every play more routine.

    "The thing about getting over there is, a lot of people have a lot of different advice," Clement said, grinning. "You've got to know what you really need to focus on, because there's a lot of different elements to playing first base."

    Clement has gotten comfortable enough catching low and high throws that he's stepped up his lessons. Lately, Clement has been experimenting with how off the bag he can get set and still make it back in time to take a throw.

    Settling in at first base seems to have helped Clement at the plate. Over the past 10 games, he's hit 10 for 29, including two homers, with two walks. In his first nine games, Clement went 3 for 24.

    Clement admitted his main focus during spring training has been on learning his new position, which probably hurt him a bit at the plate.

    "I've had success in the past swinging the bat, so you never panic," said Clement, a .282 hitter in five seasons in the minors. "I'd like to be having more success than I've had. But at the same time, it's not like I feel like I'm going up there and I've got no chance."
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    Default Re: Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman

    Good to hear. I hope for his success.

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    Default Re: Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman

    I think he'll have a decent season. If he can play average defense and hit around .280 20-25 HR's and 80 RBI's, it would have to be considered a successfull season.
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    Default Re: Pirates' Clement settling in as first baseman

    Charlie at BucsDugout makes the case for Clement at first...

    "...Clement has had something like 1300 Class AAA at bats, and he has shown he can hit there. So placing him in the Pirates lineup is not really "experimental" at all, at least not any more than playing any other rookie is experimental. Where the experiment comes in has to do with his fielding at first base, which probably will be a struggle, but which is probably only marginally more difficult to do in the majors than in Class AAA.

    And if that paragraph sounds defensive about "experiments," let me continue. The Pirates have been in bad shape for a long time. Everyone knows that, and it would be stupid to deny it. For a team that's in a bad way, "experiments" and weird gambles are generally good things, and we should encourage them. They may not provide the best short-term reasons to provide tickets, but they can be great for the health of the franchise.

    Check out Joe Posnanski on Branch Rickey to see what I mean. When Rickey ran the Pirates in the early 1950s, he was doing things that made Neal Huntington's experiments look positively tame, and the Pirates were really bad during those years, but when all the smoke cleared, the Bucs ended up with Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face and Dick Groat as a direct result of all of Rickey's roster shenanigans. Now, it's not really possible anymore to receive so much in return for punting one's regular season hopes, but if the Pirates are willing to be honest enough with themselves to start a converted catcher with some hitting potential at first base, then I think that's great. "

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