PITTSBURGH – This has now become a case of hard headiness by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ brain trust. There is no other logical explanation.
The Pirates continue to use Austin Hedges as their everyday catcher despite the fact he is having a horrid offensive season. They also keep playing rookie Henry Davis in right field even though his natural position is catcher.
Hedges has the well-deserved reputation of being an outstanding handler of pitchers and a great clubhouse guy. He has been exactly that after being signed to a one-year, $5-million contract in free agency over the winter.
The pitchers love Hedges’ engaging personality and so do his teammates. Heck, I like him, too.
However, the time has come when the Pirates can’t keep giving him regular at-bats. After going 0 for 2 with two strikeouts in Friday night’s 6-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park, Hedges is hitting .176/.228/.229 in 60 games and 153 plate appearances.
If the Pirates had a more powerful lineup, then perhaps they could carry such a weak hitter. However, they are 22nd among the 30 major-league teams in runs scored.
The Pirates keep citing his game-calling and pitch-framing skills as justification for playing Hedges.
Indeed, he has been credited with six defensive runs saved. But he also has seven errors and has thrown out 16% of runners attempting to steal.
The ridiculousness of the whole Hedges/Davis situation came to a head in the seventh inning when the Giants scored three runs to erase a 4-3 deficit. The inning included a passed ball by Hedges – his first of the season – and a fielding error by Davis that allowed the go-ahead run to score.
If that didn’t give the Pirates pause to rethink their catching situation, I’m not sure what will force their hand.
Manager Derek Shelton gave a very short answer when asked if it was time to bench Hedges.
“No. Not right now we’re not,” Shelton said.
Davis has played exactly one inning at catcher since making his major-league debut on July 19.
The Pirates say they are developing Davis’ defense by having him catch bullpens and do other pre-game work. If that’s truly the plan, it makes no sense at all.
A catcher’s development behind the plate can’t be aided by never actually catching. It just can’t. For the Pirates to sell that to the media and fans is disingenuous.
The Pirates clearly don’t think Davis can be a major-league catcher. Otherwise, they would give him back his mask and the rest of his catching gear and let him get game action.
Davis did not have the reputation of being a good defensive catcher when the Pirates selected him first overall in the 2021 amateur draft from the University of Louisville. He also struggled at times in the minor leagues with the mitt, though he does have a strong arm.
However, the Pirates owe it to themselves to find out if Davis can be a big-league catcher and now is the perfect time. Realistically, the Pirates’ playoff hopes are gone as they are 8.5 games out of first place in the National League Central and nine games out of the third NL wild card.
With still more than two months left in the season, it’s the perfect time to give the starting catcher job to Davis and see what he does with it. If nothing else, taking Hedges’ bat out of the lineup would certainly be addition by subtraction.